Though the overwhelming regulatory spotlight on AT&T recently has been over its failed purchase of T-Mobile USA, it already had another blockbuster deal in the works before that: the $1.9 billion purchase of 700MHz spectrum owned by Qualcomm, a prime block that had previously been used for the failed MediaFLO mobile TV service. It had been revealed in the FCC's report on the AT&T / T-Mobile deal that chairman Julius Genachowski had already circulated a draft approval of the Qualcomm deal to the commissioners, so it comes as little surprise this afternoon to learn that the buy has been approved by a margin of 3-1.
For many reasons, this purchase is less controversial than the T-Mobile deal — Qualcomm had already decommissioned MediaFLO so the spectrum is sitting unused, and the block in question is conveniently adjacent to one of the blocks that AT&T is already using to facilitate its nationwide LTE rollout. That said, the approval isn't without stipulations: WSJ reports that the FCC has attached some rules around the deal regarding roaming and interference protection. What it hasn't done, though, is require that devices built for the newly-expanded AT&T LTE network are interoperable with nearby bands in use by much smaller regional carriers — that's a sticking point that the Rural Cellular Association and others had pushed very hard for, arguing that their reduced buying power would make it difficult to source LTE devices without being able to use AT&T's hand-me-downs.