from the chicken-little dept
If you recall, the wireless industry has spent much of the last decade proclaiming that a “spectrum crunch” was afoot, declaring that unless the government did exactly as requested, wireless growth and innovation would grind to a halt. AT&T was quick to claim that it needed to buy T-Mobile because of said spectrum crunch, though the company’s own leaked documents highlighted that this simply wasn’t true (this hubris being a big reason the deal was rejected). Verizon has also spent years crying spectrum poverty when convenient, despite repeated analysis showing its holdings lead the industry.
Yes, there is finite spectrum, but as with all network capacity constraints this has increasingly been mitigated by Wi-Fi offloading, new technologies and smart engineering (not to mention unlicensed options and technologies we haven’t even conceived yet). If there is a “spectrum crunch,” it’s predominantly among smaller competitors that lack the resources to buy huge swaths of spectrum, or the political power to get regulators to tilt the entire playing field (and spectrum auction process) in their direction. Of course, both AT&T and Verizon have breathlessly and repeatedly denied that they warehouse extra spectrum to help keep would-be competitors at bay.
After years of warning of spectrum armageddon, Verizon’s again making it clear that the entire spectrum crisis was contrived nonsense. After nabbing another $10.4 billion at the recent AWS-3 auction, Verizon CTO Tony Melone this week stated that despite years of claiming spectrum poverty, Verizon never really felt pressured to buy such a huge swath of spectrum:
“In a conference call with investors, Tony Melone, Verizon Communications’ executive vice president of network, said that “entering the auction there was no markets where we felt compelled to acquire spectrum, irrespective of the price.” Verizon did not feel pressure to aggressively bid for spectrum because it already had at least 40 MHz of AWS-1 spectrum in many U.S. markets, especially in the eastern United States, Melone said.”
It’s always kind of amusing when the network guys forget to adhere to narratives set by the policy folks (like the Verizon CFO’s recent slip up in admitting Title II isn’t a big deal). But Melone’s comments are a far cry from claims made by Verizon’s policy blog just a few years ago, when the company was trying to get regulatory approval for a huge co-marketing deal with the cable industry:
“Rather than waste time arguing about spectrum efficiency, let?s focus on the issue on which we all agree: America?s wireless consumers face a spectrum crunch that won?t be relieved by Verizon?s spectrum purchase. It?s up to the industry, as well as policymakers, to help ensure that more spectrum reaches the marketplace soon, so America?s wireless industry remains the global leader in innovation that it is today.”
Said spectrum crisis seems to materialize out of thin air when Verizon needs something, then just as quickly disappears when the company candidly decides to talk about its holdings. Of course, Verizon gets away with this kind of stuff, in part, because the tech press (with the occasional exception) loves to regurgitate company claims unskeptically. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that congestion has long been a useful bogeyman to scare regulators into bending rules to the benefit of the biggest, least competitive companies. Remember the Exaflood? How about usage caps? Does anybody notice a pattern?
With Verizon’s bloated belly full from the recent AWS-3 spectrum purchases, and new technologies constantly evolving to more than meet mobile network demands, that should be the last we hear about Verizon’s spectrum shortfall for a long while, right? Of course not. The big telco threat these days is that if the government imposes tough net neutrality protections, we’ll see a dramatic decrease in innovation and network investment leading to (you guessed it) network performance and capacity issues (though we’ve illustrated how these claims too are bunk).
You’d think we’d reach a point, after so many years of false claims, where the press would no longer just take the claims of lumbering, bloated duopolists at face value. If there’s a crisis, it remains a crisis of critical thinking.