The Federal Communications Commission is planning to auction off a large chunk of spectrum next year. In a vote Thursday, the government agency decided to limit how much spectrum larger carriers Verizon and AT&T will be allowed to acquire during the sale in 2015, Reuters reports. The decision follows requests from T-Mobile and Sprint, both of which see giving extra spectrum to larger carriers as an unfair advantage.
The 3-2 vote ensures that 30 megahertz of spectrum will be reserved for smaller carriers with less than one third of the spectrum available in each market covered by the auction, potentially evening the gap between competing carriers. AT&T and Verizon collectively control about two-thirds of the low-frequency airwaves currently used by cellphones, meaning they’ll be handicapped in most markets.
“What this rule does is prevent those with current low-band spectrum from monopolizing the market in the auction by assuring that some spectrum will be available for those with insufficient amounts of spectrum to serve rural areas and penetrate buildings,” explained FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
The FCC’s spectrum auction isn’t set to take place until mid-2015, and plenty could change between now and then. Sprint seems bent on acquiring T-Mobile, which would force the FCC to revisit the rules it agreed to today. If the deal falls through, both T-Mobile and Sprint could be well positioned to buy up more spectrum next year, which may provide an incentive to back away from the proposed merger.