FCC rejects CCA request for stay in Verizon/Straight Path license transfer

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau announced it will not stand in the way of Straight Path’s millimeter wave (mmWave) license transfer to Verizon, denying a request from the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) to stay a Jan. 18 order approving the transfer. The bureau said CCA failed to meet its burden for a “grant of an extraordinary remedy” of a stay.

One of the key arguments CCA put forth was that by allowing Verizon such large holdings of mmWave spectrum, it would get a first-mover advantage that would effectively shut out CCA members from emerging 5G markets. But the FCC bureau disagreed, saying CCA didn’t substantiate its claim with a factual showing that its members would be irreparably injured absent a stay and that CCA didn’t even ask for a stay until more than a month after the bureau’s order approving the transaction.

CCA had accused the bureau of pushing the transaction through without a proper analysis and that it amounted to allowing Straight Path to acquire nearly $2.5 billion in “ill-gotten gains” after warehousing spectrum for years using licenses that should have been terminated and returned to the commission.

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Although a lot of CCA’s smaller members are still focused on furthering their LTE and VoLTE deployments, some of them are testing and trialing 5G, including US Cellular and C Spire. The association, which also represents T-Mobile and Sprint, had accelerated its efforts in recent months to get the FCC to reevaluate the Straight Path transaction and AT&T’s acquisition of FiberTower millimeter wave licenses, arguing the transactions would essentially allocate 80% of the MHz-POPs in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands to the nation’s two largest carriers.

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According to CCA, the 28 GHz band is critical because the band has technical characteristics that make it especially capable of delivering very high-capacity data services and low latency compared with other bands. In addition, the 28 GHz band is expected to support 5G deployments much sooner than other mmWave bands, given the band has emerged as the focus of academic and industry efforts in 5G, and equipment development in the 28 GHz band is more advanced. The 39 GHz band also is uniquely important among mmWave spectrum due to the enormous amounts of contiguous bandwidth available.

According to the FCC’s order denying CCA’s request, the association had argued that the first 5G deployments were not expected until 2020, so granting a stay would not put a damper on deployment. But Verizon countered that it announced plans to deliver 5G in a number of markets in 2018 and that by unraveling its complex multimillion-dollar business transaction and disrupting operations, sufficient harm would come its way.

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Brian Goemmer, president of spectrum tracking firm AllNet Insights & Analytics, told FierceWireless earlier this year that thanks to the Straight Path deal, Verizon owns roughly 30% of all available licensed millimeter wave spectrum. He said AT&T owns much less millimeter wave spectrum than Verizon.

At its April 17 open meeting, the FCC will consider a public notice that would seek comment on the procedures for auctions in the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said he hopes to start the 28 GHz auction on Nov. 14.