Regulatory delay in granting T-Mobile access to 2.5 GHz spectrum is putting $42 billion of value at risk

In a new report prepared for T-Mobile, consultants from The Brattle Group explore the detrimental impact and quantify the costs of delaying spectrum deployment, both for consumers and the telecommunications industry. Read the full report here. 

Authored by Brattle Principals Dr. Coleman Bazelon and Dr. Paroma Sanyal, Economic Impact of Delaying the Deployment of Auction 108 2.5 GHz Licenses focuses on the postponed implementation of approximately 8,000 flexible-use licenses – covering 117.5 megahertz – for white spaces in the 2.5 GHz spectrum band. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) successfully completed a mid-band spectrum auction in August 2022, but has so far failed to issue the license to the winners, including T-Mobile.

“The 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses at issue would enable T-Mobile to upgrade 5G coverage and capacity in counties across the country, especially in rural areas – bringing faster, more reliable connectivity to the Americans who need it most,” said Dr. Sanyal. “Our report finds that stranding these licenses is putting $42 billion of value at risk and is postponing the creation of nearly 17,000 jobs.”

The report estimates that every additional three-month delay destroys an additional $700–$750 million of value.

The spectrum licenses have been stranded at the FCC due to a disagreement over the Commission’s auction authority, which Congress allowed to expire in March 2023; the FCC cannot conduct new auctions until Congress renews that authority through legislation. T-Mobile, four former FCC General Counsels, and groups representing Tribes and rural interests have argued that the Commission has ample authority to issue the stranded licenses because the auction was completed before the auction authority expired. Nonetheless, FCC leadership so far has not issued them.

“Not issuing licenses won at auction and already paid for introduces a new type of regulatory risk for the wireless industry. The harm to T-Mobile and its customers is clear; the potential harm to the entire wireless sector grows the longer these licenses remain in limbo,” said Dr. Bazelon.

Absent the full licenses, T-Mobile has filed FCC paperwork for a compromise solution, allowing the company to light up the spectrum while Congress and the FCC sort out auction authority. The proposal is to use Special Temporary Authority (STA), a common temporary method to expedite spectrum use in extraordinary circumstances.

Since T-Mobile already has built out the towers and radios to light up much of this spectrum, the report notes that STAs would allow the company to upgrade service to over 50 million individuals almost immediately, and offer in-home broadband service to 3 million households. Over 83 million people would benefit from enhanced mobile and fixed wireless broadband coverage and capacity if all licenses were granted.

Read the full report here