In documents filed with the FCC on Monday, two small business designated entities (DEs) backed by DISH Network, Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless LicenseCo, defended their activities in the Advanced Wireless Service (AWS)-3 auction. The filings were made in response to petitioners that have asked the FCC to deny the companies’ AWS-3 license applications or reject bid credits that would reduce the companies’ collective winning bid tally by $3.3 billion. Meanwhile, in reply to a recent inquiry by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), DISH maintained that the joint bidding arrangement (JBA) among Northstar, SNR and American AWS-3 Wireless—a DISH subsidiary that participated in the AWS-3 auction but won no licenses— not only “complied fully with FCC rules and policies,” but also “helped make the AWS-3 auction the most successful in FCC history.”

Between them, Northstar and SNR won provisional rights to 702 out of 1,611 licenses in the AWS-3 auction, which shattered records with total bids of $44.8 billion to rank as the FCC’s highest grossing spectrum sale in history. Answering petitioners who have questioned DISH’s influence over Northstar and SNR and have claimed that the JBA among Northstar, SNR and DISH violated FCC rules against collusive bidding, Northstar maintained that its ownership structure and actions during the AWS-3 auction “were entirely consistent with the Commission’s longstanding rules on de jure and de facto control and procompetitive joint bidding arrangements.” As Northstar reminded the FCC that the petitioners’ allegations of collusion “[ignore] the fact that cooperation and collaboration regarding bids and bidding strategies arrangements are explicitly allowed under the Commission’s Rules,” SNR observed that most of the petitioners “are public policy advocacy groups or individual citizens that have no connection at all to Auction 97 and, accordingly, have no standing” to challenge the company’s AWS-3 licenses. Because the petitions fit the category of “complaints with the Commission’s current governing rules, rather than with Northstar Wireless’ compliance with them,” Northstar thus argued that “the appropriate forum for the petitioners to seek these rule changes is a rulemaking proceeding.”

As Northstar and SNR submitted their oppositions to the FCC, DISH told Thune that JBAs “are commonplace and have been employed at least 36 times before by many auction participants” that include Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and MetroPCS. DISH further explained that the FCC’s anti-collusion rule “expressly allows parties to bidding consortia or [JBAs] that are disclosed in the bidding parties’ pre-auction short form application to cooperate and collaborate on, discuss and disclose to each other, bids, bidding strategies and settlement agreements” and that the rule “applies to applicants who apply to bid on the same licenses.” Noting that its collaboration with SNR and Northstar boosted the AWS-3 auction’s projected revenues by $23 billion, DISH proclaimed: “that result should be applauded.”