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Attention T-Mobile Suitors: FCC Chairman Still “Skeptical” of Consolidation

Tom Wheeler says the death of Sprint’s T-Mobile bid was a good idea and warns off other potential suitors.

Super Mobility Week/CTIA

While most of the wireless industry was focused on a big white box in Cupertino, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was giving a speech at the wireless industry’s trade show in Las Vegas Tuesday morning.

Wheeler had a few messages for the wireless industry, most notably that he still thinks that having four national wireless carriers competing for subscribers is a great idea.

Victory lap on helping kill Sprint/T-Mobile deal

Because the Justice Department and Wheeler “were outspoken in discouraging Sprint’s potential acquisition of T-Mobile … the American consumer has been the beneficiary: New pricing and new services that have been spurred by competition,” he said.

Other potential T-Mobile suitors better watch out: “We will continue to be skeptical of efforts to achieve scale through the consolidation of major players,” he said.

Applying net neutrality rules to wireless?

Wheeler noted plenty of people and companies that have commented on his controversial net neutrality proposal have said the rules should also apply to wireless networks. (The FCC mostly excluded wireless networks from its 2010 net neutrality rules.)

But he didn’t offer much guidance Tuesday about whether he agrees with them. He noted the agency initially concluded it “should maintain the same approach going forward” but was still looking at the issue.

Nevertheless, Wheeler did suggest the agency isn’t happy with how the wireless carriers have been managing their networks lately.

Recently, the FCC began gathering information from all the carriers about their network management practices, after hearing complaints that Verizon was slowing some unlimited data subscribers.

“We are very concerned about the possibility that some customers are being singled out for disparate treatment even though they have paid for the capacity that is being throttled,” Wheeler said.

Spectrum auction: Will there only be three or four bidders?

One of the biggest tasks the FCC is taking on next year is running an “incentive auction” of airwaves that are reclaimed from TV stations. The agency is trying to convince station owners to give up their airwaves in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.

Wheeler said he was “heartened” by AT&T’s and Dish Network’s “strong expressions of interest in the Incentive Auction” as well as “reports of big interest and big numbers being tossed around when Sprint and T-Mobile wanted to bid jointly.”

(The FCC killed that joint bidding idea.)

“Nevertheless, the rest of the industry, however, has been strangely silent,” Wheeler lamented, warning that if wireless industry bidders don’t show up to the table, neither will TV station owners.

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