In an attempt to perhaps temper deals that might eventually constrict competition in the broadband marketplace, a group of operators and consumer-interest groups asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require Verizon Wireless to provide more information regarding its pending acquisition of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum from several cable operators (click here for more information). Apparently, that plea has done some good.
Initially, Verizon Wireless reportedly had objected to the release of more documents regarding anything other than the spectrum sales, saying any kind of commercial agreements between carriers are not subject to FCC approval. Things have changed.
The background: In a letter Wednesday to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski regarding WT Docket No. 12-4 (Assignment of Licenses to Verizon Wireless from SpectrumCo and Cox TMI Wireless LLC), the parties (C Spire Wireless, Consumer Federation of America, DirecTV, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, Open Technology Initiative, NTELOS Holdings Corp., Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA and Public Knowledge) wrote, “The acquisition of significant additional spectrum by the nation’s largest wireless carrier, by itself, warrants public involvement and scrutiny by the Commission. The applications, however, demonstrate that this spectrum transfer is part of a larger business transaction between actual and potential competitors.”
The letter continues, “Without the ability to review the larger transaction in its entirety, it is impossible to assess whether there will be public interest harms associated with this proposed transfer. Accordingly, we seek the Commission’s assistance in acquiring the information necessary to adequately evaluate the proposed transactions and relationships and provide input that would assist the Commission in its evaluation of the applications.”
The paperwork requested by the group includes “all of the several agreements referred to in Verizon’s SEC filing, Comcast’s press release, and any similar agreements between Verizon and Cox, along with any applicable schedules and supporting documentation necessary for the Commission and the public to fully grasp and understand the scope of the transactions and ongoing agreements.”
The signatories also pointed out that the spectrum deals allow Verizon and the cable providers to “become agents to sell one another’s products and, over time, the cable companies will have the option of selling Verizon Wireless’ service on a wholesale basis… Additionally, the cable companies and Verizon Wireless have formed an innovation technology joint venture…that could affect, in addition to the market for mobile wireless services, the provision of multichannel video programming and broadband services, including dedicated private lines and high-speed Internet access.”
Since that letter was sent, Verizon has submitted the requested paperwork, although the FCC has not shared it as yet with the group requesting it.
According to Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge, “We are pleased that Verizon and Comcast with its cable partners filed material today with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) explaining the details of their joint marketing and technical arrangements. This voluntary filing will eliminate a controversy that surely would have taken place had they not done so.”
He continues, “At the same time, no one should accept the companies’ claim that the arrangement are outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction. They clearly are. We expect the Commission to evaluate these arrangements in the context of the spectrum deal to determine how the entire transaction will affect competition and the public interest.”