AT&T Inc, already the largest US cell phone provider, won government approval to buy highly coveted airwaves licenses that cover 196 million people in 281 domestic markets.
The Federal Communications Commission on Monday released an order approving the company's USD 2.5 billion cash buyout of Aloha Partners LP and its spectrum holdings.
The licenses are in the much-sought-after 700-megahertz band that is being vacated by television broadcasters. It is next to spectrum that is currently being auctioned by the FCC and has drawn record bids.
Sixty-two megahertz are up for auction. The Aloha transaction is for 12 megahertz.
AT&T provides wireless service to 63.7 million customers, more than any other wireless provider in the nation, according to the company. Aloha is a Providence, Rhode Island-based company that acquired the licenses in previous FCC auctions and in the secondary market between 2003 and 2005.
Except for two limited market trials, Aloha never used the airwaves to build a wireless network.
The agency declared the sale would "not have an adverse effect on competition in the mobile telephony market." It noted there were no public comments in opposition to the merger, but FCC commissioner Michael Copps voted against the transfer.
In a statement, Copps said the FCC order constitutes "a rush to judgment" on the part of the FCC using a method of analysis that includes "sloppy math and inaccurate assumptions." He said the transfer "seems destined to reduce competition and diversity in the wireless marketplace.