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C Spire: How AT&T conspired to squash our regional wireless firm

The Mississippi-based wireless operator Cellular South, a.k.a. C Spire, says in a lawsuit that AT&T conspired with suppliers to run it out of business.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
9 min read

A small wireless carrier in the Southeast is taking AT&T, Qualcomm, and Motorola to federal court claiming that they conspired to keep smaller competitors out of the wireless market.

Cellular South, otherwise known as C-Spire, and its affiliates, Corr Wireless Communications and Cellular South Licenses, have filed an antitrust lawsuit in a U.S. federal court in the Northern District of Mississippi. The lawsuit, which was launched in April, alleges that AT&T and its suppliers Qualcomm and Motorola worked together to push it and other small regional wireless operators out of business by manipulating the standards process that establishes specifications for mobile devices.

The lawsuit is yet another twist in what is turning out to be a complicated competitive wireless market. Over the past decade there has been a tremendous amount of consolidation among carriers, resulting in the two largest wireless operators in the U.S. -- AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- accounting for the majority of wireless subscribers. In some markets, smaller providers also compete. But these regional players say that the deck is stacked against them.

At the heart of their complaints are issues surrounding wireless spectrum. Some operators are spectrum-starved and can't grow without it. Others that participated in the Federal Communication Commission's last spectrum auction, meanwhile, say they have the spectrum and money to deploy next-generation wireless network technology, but their competitors are shutting them out.

"We've seen larger companies like AT&T and Verizon using innovative deployment schemes of technology and spectrum to eliminate competition," said Steven Berry, CEO for the RCA, the Competitive Carriers Association. "Companies like C-Spire have the money and spectrum to deploy a network, but they don't control the ecosystem and they don't have the ability to roam."