The US Federal Communications Commission has approved the purchase by AT&T of 12MHz of wireless spectrum that covers 60 per cent of the US.

AT&T bought the spectrum from Aloha Spectrum Holdings. The spectrum, in the highly coveted 700MHz band, covers 196 million of the 303 million US residents and includes 72 of the top 100 media markets in the country. Aloha acquired the spectrum in earlier FCC auctions and from other auction winners. This portion of the 700MHz spectrum is not part of the FCC auction now in progress.

The 700MHz spectrum band carries wireless signals three to four times farther than some higher spectrum bands, making it optimal for long-range broadband networks. This is raising speculation that Apple and At&T could be implementing nationwide WiFi rather than 3G.

The FCC, in an order issued Monday, approved the sale despite concerns expressed by the commission's two Democratic members. AT&T announced in October that it intended to buy the spectrum for $2.5 billion. The company said then it planned to use the spectrum for broadcast video or for two-way communications such as voice, data or multicast content.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said he voted to approve the deal because of a lack of public opposition, but he had concerns about the FCC's review of the deal.

The agency's review "lacks both substance and analysis in its review of whether, on balance, the transaction serves the public's interest," Adelstein said in a statement. "We are required to do more than simply conclude that a transaction benefits the public and will not have an adverse effect on competition. I would have preferred to see a more thorough assessment weighing the potential public interest harms and benefits of this transaction and its impact on the mobile telephony market."

Commissioner Michael Copps voted against the deal. The deal could have a large impact on a mobile voice and data market "that has seen round after round of consolidation in recent years," he said in a statement.

Copps also raised concerns about the FCC's review of the deal. The review "contains only an extremely abbreviated analysis of the competitive effects of this change in ownership," he said.

AT&T, in a statement, said it was pleased with the FCC's decision. The deal will help AT&T meet growing customer demand for wireless services, the company said.