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Brookings Panel Debates Wireless Spectrum Policy, AT&T-T-Mobile Deal

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WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 - The Brookings Institution assembled leading telecommunications experts and business representatives on Wednesday to discuss the future of spectrum policy and the impending merger between AT&T and T-Mobile.

“Mobile broadband is exploding in demand,” said James Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President-External and Legislative Affairs at AT&T at the start the discussion. “By 2015 we expect our network to carry 19 billion exabytes of data which is equivalent to 400 quadrillion DVDs annually.”

Cicconi proceeded to explain why AT&T views the merger between it and T-Mobile a necessity to solve the spectrum crisis. He stated that T-Mobile currently lacks the necessary spectrum licenses to create a 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network and its parent company Deutsche Telekom does not have the capital necessary to buy more licenses.

“We already carry more wireless data than any other company,” Cicconi said. “When we acquire the additional spectrum owned by T-Mobile we will be able to expand our 4G network to cover 95 percent of the population.”

Former Broadband Plan Executive Director, Blair Levin, called access 4G “critical” and said that mobile broadband is vital to future economic growth.

Levin went onto say that a spectrum crunch will occur if broadcasters do not sell off some of their holdings, but he opposed taking spectrum away from the owners without proper compensation.

“The best way to reallocate spectrum is with voluntary incentive auctions,” Levin said, “but if the current owners are not able to profit from the auction no one will participate.”

Currently all proceeds from any spectrum auction or sale go directly to the Treasury Department rather than the previous owners. Levin called on Congress to change the law.

While he would not explicitly comment on the merger Levin did say that “competition drives spectrum efficiency” and when companies must work within their existing allotment they create innovative new technologies to meet their demand requirements. However, he then went on to say that there needs to be enough available spectrum to allow for competition to occur.

Richard Whitt, Senior Policy Director at Google, expounded on the need for a comprehensive spectrum inventory: “We need to know exactly who owns what and what it’s being used for.”

Whitt echoed Levin’s call for voluntary spectrum auctions, but said that in addition to releasing additional spectrum to mobile broadband providers, the Federal Communication Commissions should also set aside spectrum for unlicensed uses.

Unlicensed bands are crucial for innovation since any user can run a device on the band without having to purchase an expensive license. Cicconi, agreed with Whitt’s assessment of the unlicensed bands citing Wi-Fi as the best example of the use of the unlicensed band.

Whitt also called on government agencies to release spectrum that it currently holds but is not using.


Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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