The Circuit: AT&T-Qualcomm, media ownership, Verizon spectrum deals

December 23, 2011

LEADING THE DAY: The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved AT&T’s $1.9 billion purchase of wireless airwaves from Qualcomm. The approval provided a boost for the company, which this week suffered a rejection of its much bigger bid for T-Mobile.

A 3 to 1 vote approving the deal will allow AT&T to acquire airwaves that it will use to bolster its high-speed mobile Internet network, known as its fourth-generation LTE network — a move that will help it compete with Verizon's aggressive moves to expand its own network.

Media ownership:The FCC announced Thursday that it will move ahead with a proposal to loosen the rules on media ownership. The agency voted to continue with a new proposal to lift a ban on allowing companies to own a major TV station and a major newspaper in the country’s top 20 markets. In 2007, the FCC came forward with a similar proposal which was ultimately thrown out by a federal appeals court after a judge ruled that the FCC did not have a long enough period for public comment.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking, the agency said it proposes “to eliminate the radio/television crossownership rule in favor of reliance on the local radio rule and local television rule. We believe that the local radio and television ownership rules adequately protect our localism and diversity goals and seek comment on this proposal.”

Verizon AWS spectrum: Media reform advocacy group Free Press has sent a letter to the FCC protesting Verizon’s proposed purchase of Spectrum CO’s AWS spectrum, saying that the spectrum sale and joint-marketing agreements Verizon is involved in are all part of the same transaction.

“Overall, this transaction would weaken the incentives for each of these companies to compete with one another,” the group said in a letter. Verizon is facing scrutiny over its spectrum and licensing deals from antitrust officials who have also expressed concerns about the deals’ impact on competition.

White spaces: The FCC also announced that it has approved the first white spaces database and device, setting the course for “super WiFi” devices. White spaces — the unused spectrum between television broadcast frequencies — will be available for use in Wilmington, N.C., starting next month.

In a statement, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said, “With today’s approval of the first TV white spaces database and device, we are taking an important step towards enabling a new wave of wireless innovation.  Unleashing white spaces spectrum has the potential to exceed even the many billions of dollars in economic benefit from Wi-Fi, the last significant release of unlicensed spectrum, and drive private investment and job creation.”

Research in Motion: Amid rumors of takeover interest, Research in Motion has denied an accusation leveled at the company in Boy Genius Report, which said that the company was lying about the reason behind the delay of BlackBerry 10. The report, citing a “trusted” source within the company, said that RIM is delaying the launch of its next operating system because “they don’t have a working product yet.”

In an e-mailed statement, the company’s public relations team reaffirmed its previous reason for the delay and called the report “inaccurate and uninformed.” “RIM made a strategic decision to launch BlackBerry 10 devices with a new, LTE-based dual core chip set architecture,” the company said in the statement.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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