One idea to keep that from happening is to impose limits on how much spectrum the two top carriers will be allowed to buy. Verizon and AT&T understandably dislike the proposal. They'd prefer to snap up the lion's share of that invisible real estate. But taken to the extreme, that could crowd out smaller carriers such as Sprint and T-Mobile, or even discourage them from participating in the auction altogether. Instituting limits might help make sure there's enough spectrum to go around.
That trade-off is on the mind of the new FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, who must decide in the coming months what rules will govern the auctions. In his gag routine Thursday night, he dropped this groan-worthy joke:
As you've noticed, we've got a good supply of wine here tonight. But it's a limited supply. So, AT&T and Verizon? I'm going to have to ask you to limit. And T-Mobile and Sprint? Go ahead, guys! [Laughter.] But listen. T-Mobile and Sprint — would you show up and buy something?
It's a deplorable stab at comedy. But as an analogy for what's becoming a thorny policy issue? It's not far off.