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7/28/2008
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AT&T, Rural Carriers Oppose Sprint-Clearwire WiMax Partnership

The nation's largest telecom company and the Rural Cellular Association have asked the FCC to scrutinize the proposal to deploy a nationwide broadband network.

The proposed partnership of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire to deploy a nationwide WiMax network is being opposed by AT&T and the Rural Cellular Association, both of which have asked the FCC to examine the deal.

Citing the FCC's earlier scrutiny of mergers and competitive combinations for mobile wireless partnerships, AT&T last week asked the FCC to be consistent in examining and approving partnerships. AT&T cited its acquisition of Dobson Communications, in which the FCC intensely reviewed the acquisition, as an example.

AT&T, the largest telecommunications company in the United States, indicated that Sprint and Clearwire have not accounted for some airwaves in their proposed partnership; AT&T said the Sprint-Clearwire combination would be subjected to closer examination if the discounted airwaves were taken into account.

"While AT&T does not fundamentally oppose the underlying transactions," AT&T stated, "the regulatory process must be consistent for all entrants, including New Clearwire, and regulatory parity therefore requires an examination of the reformed company's spectrum aggregation."

In a separate petition, the RCA, which represents wireless providers in rural areas, has raised objections to the proposed partnership, asking the FCC to examine "carrier-to-carrier network interoperability, including automatic roaming for voice and data, notably for wireless broadband services."

In a statement, the RCA said, "Competition is promoted through interoperability because it allows small and regional wireless carriers to offer the public a service that is not interrupted by unsuccessful inter-carrier handoffs, and because consumers can make full use of their wireless devices regardless of which carrier is their serving carrier whenever the networks are technically compatible."

However, the proposed Sprint Nextel-Clearwire partnership has picked up important support in recent weeks from several educational and religious organizations, including the Wireless Communications Association International and the Catholic Television Network.

Through a spokesman, Sprint Nextel hailed its proposed partnership with Clearwire, maintaining that it will create the country's "first nationwide true broadband mobile network that will increase competition in a consolidating industry." The company also said the partnership's WiMax technology can bring broadband to consumers who are beyond the reach of existing broadband networks.

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