T-Mobile asks for temporary authority to use its new 2.5 GHz spectrum

Although T-Mobile paid $304 million for 7,156 licenses of 2.5 GHz spectrum in last summer’s auction, it now finds itself in the awkward position of not being able to deploy this spectrum. The reason is because Congress recently allowed the FCC’s auction authority to lapse. And the FCC says it cannot issue licenses for the 2.5 GHz spectrum to T-Mobile until its auction authority is reinstated.

One could speculate that the FCC is putting T-Mobile in the middle of this issue because it would like the help of T-Mobile’s lawyers and lobbyists to get the FCC’s auction authority renewed.

Prior to its auction authority lapsing, the FCC had already issued licenses for some of the 2.5 GHz spectrum from Auction 108.

Last Friday, T-Mobile filed an application with the FCC, asking for special temporary authority (STA) to deploy its newly purchased 2.5 GHz spectrum in specific geographic areas. Given the exhaustive list of counties in Exhibit B of its application, it appears that T-Mobile is asking for permission to deploy in nearly all 2,724 counties where it won 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses.

T-Mobile said its request will serve the public interest, especially by providing wireless service in many rural and underserved areas. T-Mobile said it would undertake temporary deployment of the spectrum “at its own risk.”

FCC's auction authority

In regard to the FCC’s auction authority, T-Mobile said it believes the FCC still has the authority to grant the 2.5 GHz licenses, since the auction of the spectrum has already concluded. Nevertheless, in the meantime while Congress deals with the FCC’s auction authority, T-Mobile is petitioning for the STA due to “extraordinary circumstances.”

“While T-Mobile expects that the Commission’s auction authority will be restored, the timing for when that will occur is unclear,” stated T-Mobile’s application.

The carrier said that allowing it to use this spectrum temporarily will also support its Home Internet fixed wireless access (FWA) service in numerous parts of the country.

In addition to the application for special temporary authority, T-Mobile also filed a letter with the FCC, signed by the General Counsels for Former FCC Chairmen Kennard, Martin, Wheeler and Pai, arguing that the FCC retains the power to grant the licenses to T-Mobile despite the lapse in its auction authority.

New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin today wrote, “T-Mobile is not simply going to accept the Chair’s assertion about the FCC’s lack of authority to grant the license. The company obviously believes and is willing to spend some political and financial capital to demonstrate that it has a strong argument that granting the licenses is both legally allowed and in the public interest.”