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FCC blocks Sprint and T-Mobile’s attempt to buy spectrum together

A proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would block an attempt by Sprint and T-Mobile US to buy spectrum together in the incentive auction that will transfer airwaves from broadcast TV stations to cellular carriers next year. Announced on Friday, Wheeler’s proposal seeks to help the smallest wireless companies develop business partnerships with larger ones. But it would not allow partnerships between the biggest carriers, since more than 95 percent of US customers are served by either AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless.

Federal regulators shot down any hope of Sprint and T-Mobile working together to buy airwaves at an upcoming auction next year, circulating a proposal Friday that would ban such joint bidding. In a blog post, FCC wireless bureau chief Roger Sherman outlined the proposal, saying national carriers would be banned from bidding together although smaller wireless providers could continue to do so. “Our goal is to promote the participation of as many parties as possible in the auction. If two of the largest companies are able to bid as one combined entity in the auction, their combined resources may have the effect of suppressing meaningful competition,” he wrote. “Therefore, the [proposal] tentatively concludes that joint bidding arrangements between nationwide providers should not be allowed.” Earlier this month, reports suggested that SoftBank’s Sprint and T-Mobile were in talks to form an independent joint venture to bid in the upcoming auction for airwaves currently used by TV stations. The airwaves are among the most valued in the wireless industry because signals can travel through walls and over long distances on them, which means carriers can use fewer towers to build a network.

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