AT&T Concerned U.S. Will ‘Radically’ Restrict Airwaves Bidding

AT&T Inc. (T) said it was concerned that U.S. regulators will “radically” restrict its ability to buy the rights to airwaves to meet growing demand for smartphones and tablet computers.

The second-largest U.S. mobile telephone company, which dropped a bid last month to increase airwaves holdings by buying rival T-Mobile USA Inc., has said the Federal Communications Commission shouldn’t limit participants in auctions of unused television airwaves.

“We are concerned that the FCC might actually design auction rules that radically restrict AT&T’s ability to participate in these auctions,” Robert Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president-federal regulatory in Washington, said today in an e-mailed statement.

Congress is considering legislation to authorize TV airwaves auctions proposed by President Barack Obama’s administration. The sales are supported by Dallas-based AT&T and its larger rival, Verizon Wireless of Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said last week that proposals before Congress would prevent the agency from exercising its traditional prerogative to set terms for auction participation.

“It would not be wise to prejudge or micromanage FCC auction design,” Genachowski, a Democrat, said in a Jan. 11 speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone call and e-mail seeking comment today.

AT&T and Verizon were the biggest winners in a 2008 auction of airwaves suitable for smartphone use, spending a combined $16 billion in an auction run by the FCC. The companies objected in 2010 after the FCC restricted their ability to lease airwaves from a company that’s now Philip Falcone’s proposed LightSquared Inc. wireless service.

AT&T abandoned its bid for fourth-largest U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile after the FCC moved to oppose the deal, and the U.S. Justice Department sued to stop it.

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net

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