The Internet Innovation Alliance Friday said that the President's just-announced Jobs plan argues for allowing AT&T to merge with T-Mobile as a short-term solution to faster advanced wireless deployment, given the 8-10 years it is estimated for the government to reclaim spectrum from broadcasters.
That came in a conference call between the alliance, whose members include AT&T, and reporters. The group said the President's just-announced jobs plan argued for allowing the proposed $39 billion merger because it would help get advanced wireless to over 97% of Americans, just short of the 98% goal that is part of the jobs plan.
And while that plan includes authorizing incentive auctions to free up wireless spectrum toward that goal, IAA suggested that would take 8-10 years given that the auctions have not been authorized by Congress yet, and when they are will take years to clear technical and regulatory hurdles. IIA was not suggesting the deal was an alternative to the auctions, but that, at least in the short term, it was a faster way to get wireless broadband to the 55 million more Americans AT&T has said it could reach than it had planned to do without the deal.
Broderick Johnson, senior advisor to the IIA, also pointed to AT&T promises to invest $8 billion to enhance its network and create jobs and repatriate overseas jobs as arguments the deal dovetails with the President's goal of spurring job creation and the economy, as well as the specific goal of advanced wireless deployment to the unserved.
IIA co-chairman Jamal Simmons said they expected a the jobs bill to be releases as early as next week -- the White House has only released an outline -- and that it would essentially incorporate the language of the Senate incentive auction bill that allocates, rather than auctions, spectrum for an interoperable first responder network and frees up spectrum from broadcasters to pay for that network and reduce the deficit.
But Former FCC Commissioner Henry Rivera, strategic counsel to IAA, talked about the years it would take to come up with the technical service rules for the reallocation, the rules for an incentive auction, which the FCC has never conducted before, he said, plus the transition period for broadcaster being moved and repacked. Then there is the question mark of how many broadcasters will actually "step up to the plate" and offer up their spectrum for wireless he said, given that they are voluntary auctions. "I think that is why the FCC has started beating the drum on this issue," he said, "becuase it knows it is going to take a long time."
IIA was not preaching to the choir in suggesting the President's plan provided ammunition for its argument. The Obama Justice Department has sued to block the T-Mobile–AT&T deal as a violation of antitrust laws and said in its suit that AT&T could advance the wireless cause without buying a competitor.
A reporter on the call also pointed out the deal does not free up spectrum, but simply puts it in different hands. The response was that though the amount will be the same, but the use will be different given AT&T's plan to serve 55 million more than it had planned to before the deal.
Not surprisingly, AT&T echoed the alliance in its own, seperate, statement on the president's jobs plan.
"We commend President Obama for his proposal to put more wireless spectrum into the marketplace," said EVP Jim Cicconi. "The proposal unveiled last night will go a long way to resolving this critical national infrastructure problem. It is also important, though, to recognize that other more immediate measures will be needed -- including approval of AT&T's merger with T-Mobile -- if our Nation is to realize the President's goal of providing mobile broadband to 98% of all Americans."
He also said the company agreed that coporate tax reform was needed and that there should be no more regulation that the "health, safety, and security of the American people require."