Last December, AT&T spent nearly $2 billion to purchase a big chunk of wireless spectrum from Qualcomm, with the plan of using it to expand 4G access across the country. But that deal has since been stuck in regulatory review, and it looks like it’s going to be there for some time as the FCC has decided to make that decision part of its review process for the pending AT&T purchase of T-Mobile.
In a letter to the folks at AT&T and Qualcomm, the FCC writes:
The Commission’s ongoing review has confirmed that the proposed transactions raise a number of related issues, including, but not limited to, questions regarding AT&T’s aggregation of spectrum throughout the nation, particularly in overlapping areas. As a result, we have concluded that the best way to determine whether either or both of the proposed transactions serve the public interest is to consider them in a coordinated manner at this time, without prejudice to independent treatment at a later date.
A rep for Qualcomm made the company’s case to Engadget thusly:
The FCC should approve the pending AT&T-Qualcomm spectrum sale now because of the clear benefits to the public from the sale that stand on their own and are totally unrelated to the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger. Approval now will foster the public policies that the FCC correctly deems so vital for the American public. Approval now will re-purpose unused 700 MHz unpaired spectrum for mobile broadband, thereby easing America’s spectrum crunch and helping to meet the FCC’s goal of reallocating 300 MHz for mobile broadband over the next five years. Approval now will also allow Qualcomm to invest in a new, spectrally efficient technology (supplemental downlink) and enable the first worldwide deployment to occur in the U.S., thereby fostering U.S. economic growth and job creation and enhancing U.S. global leadership in wireless technology.
Meanwhile, AT&T gave the following statement to Consumerist:
We believe the Qualcomm transaction stands on its own merits. We are pleased that the Commission has rejected calls to officially consolidate the two deals and has expressly preserved the ability for the Qualcomm application to be resolved in advance of the T-Mobile application. We remain confident that the FCC will approve the license transfers as consistent with the public interest.