Lowell was more polite, of course. Verizon didn't buy any spectrum in the last auction despite prices that were down by 50-60%. "We simply don’t need it," explains Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer. Lowell McAdam told Morgan, "When you look at the spectrum and the cost of small cells versus the cost of spectrum in the old AWS auction sort of environment, it was clear to us that building the fiber infrastructure to densify via small cells was better than the alternative of a buying spectrum." CFO Matt Ellis explained to Craig Moffett, "Spectrum is one way that we can add that capacity, but it's not the only way,"
Technology allows adding relatively inexpensive capacity within existing spectrum faster than demand is growing. Verizon estimates the cost per bit is going down 40%/year; Telus estimates 55%. Verizon's capex has been flat to down but they now are offering new unlimited plans. McAdam expects capex to stay flat for the next decade, despite one of the largest 5G mmWave builds in the world.
If spectrum were short, he would have to plan to raise capex.
Marty Cooper built the world's first cellphone at Motorola and won the Marconi Prize in 2013. He says, "We've never had a spectrum shortage and we never will." I've heard similar from Henry Samueli, Ted Rappaport, AJ Paulraj, Vint Cerf, Stagg Newman, and many others. (Google any of them.)
Spectrum is but one requirement for wireless networks, very rarely the effective limiting factor. Improved technology, required financial returns, and competitive intensity almost always will have more impact on wireless network builds. The growth in consumer demand - which is rapidly dropping - is the typical short-term driver.
Marty's comment "There's never been a spectrum shortage and never will be," needs to be put into context. Having more spectrum does reduce the cost of building most networks by reducing the number of cells you need for capacity. It's not required - you can add antennas, cells, and improved technology instead. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo calculated building out small cells, etc, was 60-70% below the price in the previous spectrum sale. At some price, adding spectrum is cheaper, but at that point the total cost is modest. (1-2% of the customer price. That's a small fraction of the marketing budget and not enough to change the economics of wireless.)
Every senior network engineer knows the above, but some people in policy still don't get it.