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Atlanta’s entrepreneurs have choice in wireless broadband

The state of Georgia was recently named number one for business climate and at the heart of that success is the city of Atlanta. Atlanta has been particular inviting to black entrepreneurs over the past decade as seen by the increase in the city’s black-owned businesses.

Entrepreneurs may find it more appealing to be in the Atlanta area because of the choice of wireless broadband providers they encounter. At least seven licensees have access to the airwaves to provide wireless services in Fulton County, Georgia, within which Atlanta is located.

I could not verify that one of the licensees is still in business, and the mergers of Clearwire and Sprint and merger of MetroPCS and T-Mobile has arguably reduced the number to four, but even at that number, consumers still enjoy choice. According to Federal Communications Commission data, here is a list of the wireless licensees:

Access 700
AT&T
Verizon
Clearwire
MetroPCS
Sprint Nextel
T-Mobile

Although Verizon and AT&T are the big boys nationally, it’s not like they have a monopoly on spectrum licenses in the Fulton County, Georgia. For example, while AT&T has eleven licenses, a combined Sprint Nextel-Clearwire holds 14. Verizon has six licenses while a combined T-Mobile-MetroPCS has five.

Tried getting my sister to leave T-Mobile but she likes their calling plans and their policy for upgrading phones. Sorry Verizon.

This is why it’s perplexing to hear some advocacy groups rant about the lack of choice. If we didn’t have robust competition, these entrepreneurs wouldn’t be here.

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Spectrum: Larry Downes describes the downside of changing a social goal

Last week Larry Downes posted an article on how the Federal Communications Commission seems to have lost its way on broadband policy. With a spectrum frontier that, according to Mr. Downes, is effectively closed, the FCC appears to have been thrown off course by short term goals preferred by smaller wireless carriers, notably Sprint and T-Mobile, a number of grassroots advocates, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

They have combined to craft and sell a narrative that more spectrum going to larger carriers, specifically AT&T and Verizon, is not good for competition and that future spectrum reverse auction rules should be written to steer spectrum toward smaller carriers in the name of, I don’t know, fairness or equity.

Somewhere lost in this pushing and shoving at the dinner table are two social policy goals. The first goal is making available to all Americans universal access to a nationwide communications network. The second goal is getting broadband access to all American households pursuant to the FCC’s March 2010 national broadband plan. In a free market where consumers are able to choose a provider for broadband services, the FCC is using its bottleneck status as gatekeeper to the airwaves to craft consumer choice according to its own image.

That image is a market where carriers serving 80% of current subscribers should be punished because they got a head start on broadband due to their very organic business model: they were incumbent local exchange carriers with a network in place and a large local phone customer base to sell to. The carriers would have to engage in time travel back to the 1970s in order to get on the same so called equal footing that the FCC would like to see now in the 21st century. That is not going to happen.

What should happen is that Sprint and T-Mobile put to use their current spectrum holdings and enter into strategic partnerships with handset and operating systems providers to sell innovative product and services. As Mr. Downes points out, Sprint, due in part to a merger with Clearwire and it being acquired by SoftBank, is America’s largest holder of spectrum. T-Mobile’s acquisition of MetroPCS garnered for itself additional spectrum.

Rather than indirectly hampering the quality of service AT&T and Verizon’s subscribers would incur because their respective carriers would be shut out of spectrum, Sprint and T-Mobile should give AT&T and Verizon subscribers a good old fashioned market based reason for switching to them versus lobbying for auction rules that violate the very premise of free markets and competition they allegedly believe in.

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NAB wants to see MetroPCS, T-Mobile transaction go through

Last week the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to bless the merger of MetroPCS and T-Mobile. NAB’s president and chief executive officer Gordon H. Smith made some strong free market arguments in support of NAB’s position. Mr. Smith said that the remarkable power of the free market was enabling wireless companies to address spectrum concerns.

Mr. Smith opined that, “[t]his merger is part of an essential transformation that the wireless industry has undergone over the past year alone. Wireless carriers have responded to the initially surprising surge in demand for data by restructuring to rationalize their considerable spectrum holdings.”

Mr. Smith goes on further to say that the merger will help wireless companies use spectrum more efficiently and that “the transaction will address major spectrum constraints facing both T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS by combining their highly complementary spectrum portfolios.”

If anything the merger speeds up the transfer of spectrum from one spectrum holder to the next. It is a lot faster than the voluntary auctions slated to start later this year that would send spectrum from television broadcasters to wireless communications providers. It would make sense that NAB is pulling for T-Mobile and MetroPCS to pass muster. It would probably put less pressure on its member stations to dip their toes into the auction soup.

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MetroPCS customers won’t see a brand name change after merger with T-Mobile

Posted October 14th, 2012 in FCC, Government Regulation, MetroPCS, T-Mobile USA and tagged , , by Alton Drew

Last week, T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS announced intent to merge their companies. On 11 October 2012, MetroPCS, in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, distributed the following notice to its customers:

What does this potential T-Mobile combination mean to me?

Nothing will change with your service, your plan or your phone, or where you can pay your bills or receive customer support. MetroPCS remains focused on providing an exceptional wireless experience with state-of-the-art 4G LTE service and smartphones at a tremendous value. Each day, we’re seeing thousands of people upgrade to and choose MetroPCS’ 4G LTE because of our unmatched unlimited offering. We think our tremendous value proposition will only get better after the T-Mobile combination. But for now, it is business as usual with the same driven focus on delivering exceptional service and experience to you.

Upon completion of the combination with T-Mobile, the plan is to keep the MetroPCS brand name, our places of distribution and the way we do business. The only real difference you should see is that MetroPCS will offer an even broader array of affordable, cutting-edge handsets and mobile services for the same great value you have come to expect from MetroPCS. This will mean you have more choices, more coverage and greater access to a faster, broader, higher capacity 4G network — where you live and in more cities throughout the U.S.

When is the potential T-Mobile combination expected to complete?

We expect the combination to close in the first half of 2013, subject to MetroPCS stockholder approval, regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

Will my rate plan or mobile services change?

No. Your rate plan will not change as a result of the announcement of the T-Mobile combination. You will continue to receive an exceptional mobile experience at a great value and the price of your plan will stay the same.

Your mobile service will not be affected by the announcement of the T-Mobile combination. We will still provide the same mobile service you’ve come to expect, choice in services and handsets – while still offering affordable unlimited talk, text and data.

Upon completion of the combination with T-Mobile, we will have the opportunity to offer you an even wider selection of affordable, cutting-edge handsets and mobile services. This will mean more coverage with greater access to a larger 4G network — where you live and in more cities throughout the U.S.

Will MetroPCS’ rate plans still be unlimited and tax inclusive?

Absolutely. All MetroPCS customers currently on a tax inclusive plan will remain on such and all new customers will continue to be offered unlimited tax and regulatory fee inclusive rate plans.

Does this mean that I will be required to sign a contract for wireless services, or am I now under a contract?

No. You are not required to sign a contract to continue to receive your current service. MetroPCS remains committed to providing you affordable wireless service with no annual contract.

The completion of the T-Mobile combination will not change our no-annual contract model. Our plan is for your service to continue on a no-annual contract basis providing you with a great mobile experience at the best value.

How long will my handset or smartphone work on MetroPCS with the impending T-Mobile combination?

The announcement of the combination with T-Mobile will not interrupt our ability to provide wireless services to you.

You will continue to be able to purchase or upgrade your handset from the current and future lineup of handsets available at any local area MetroPCS store, on your handset via MyMetro app, or at metropcs.com.

Upon completion of the combination with T-Mobile, you will have more choices, more coverage and greater access to a faster, broader, higher capacity 4G LTE network. And, you will have a broader array of affordable, cutting-edge handsets for upgrade purposes and a broader array of mobile services to choose from for the same great value. We do anticipate that by the second half of 2015, customers who have not already upgraded their handsets, will need to upgrade their handsets to one of the wide range of affordable, cutting-edge handsets that will be available at that time.

How do I pay my bill? Can I pay at T-Mobile stores now?

For the immediate future, continue paying for service as you always have through the existing MetroPCS payment channels. If those channels are expanded in the future, we’ll communicate that information to you as quickly as possible.

Again the transaction is expected to complete in the first half of 2013 — subject to MetroPCS stockholder approval, regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. And during this time, MetroPCS and T-Mobile will be, and continue to operate, as independent companies and continue to compete vigorously – having no impact on MetroPCS’ day-to-day operations.

I’ve heard that T-Mobile intends to force MetroPCS customers to move to T-Mobile as soon as the combination is completed. Is that true?

Absolutely not. Existing customers will continue to experience the same great MetroPCS coverage you have come to expect.

Immediately, nothing will change with your service, your plan or your phone. MetroPCS will remain focused on providing an exceptional wireless experience with state-of-the-art 4G LTE service and smartphones at a tremendous value. Each day, we’re seeing thousands of people upgrading to and choosing MetroPCS’ 4G LTE, and we think the value we offer will only get better after the T-Mobile combination.

Over time, customers who choose to upgrade to one of the affordable, cutting-edge smartphones that will be available will also have the benefit of experiencing an even larger and faster 4G network that combines the best of T-Mobile and MetroPCS.

Will I get better coverage?

One of the key benefits of the proposed combination with T-Mobile will be deeper 4G LTE network coverage and a clear-cut technology path to one common 4G LTE network and the ability to migrate customers to a faster, broader, higher capacity 4G network.

More specific details about changes to coverage areas will be available in the future. We will keep you updated on our progress and other important developments

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Sixth Circuit Sends Message to Localities on Wireless

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit yesterday gave wireless broadband deployment a boost when it upheld a lower court ruling that overturned a locality’s decision to deny a wireless carrier’s petition to deploy a wireless facility.

The Township of West Bloomfield, Michigan denied a request by T-Mobile to deploy a seventy-foot tower for the purpose of housing the carrier’s cellular antenna. The court of appeals held that the Township violated the Telecommunications Act by failing to provide substantial evidence in writing upon which to base its denial. The standard the court settled on was a reasonableness standard: such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

The court opined that aesthetics, claims of health risks posed by emissions, and generalized arguments amounting to “not in my backyard”, did not reach the level of substantial evidence.

The court also addressed whether the Township’s decision prohibited or had the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services. The court of appeals settled on a two-prong test (The MetroPCS standard) upon which to answer the question. The first part of the test requires that a wireless carrier show significant gaps in service coverage. The second prong of the test requires that there be some inquiry into the feasibility of alternative facilities or site locations.

The court of appeals held that T-Mobile met the requirements of the test and that the Township’s action in face of the carrier passing the test amounted to prohibiting the provision of wireless services.

This case shows the federal law’s preference for deployment of wireless facilities. It also shows how poor interpretation of it can hinder deployment of facilities particularly in rural areas where wireless facilities may be the most feasible mode of access to broadband services available to rural residents.

Not only did the court properly interpret the statutes, its ruling led to the promotion of good social and commercial policy: ensuring the deployment of universal communications infrastructure.