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FCC on Verizon-Big Cable Spectrum Deal: Sure, Why Not?; But Justice Dept. Thinking Twice

Despite concerns from consumer groups that a deal to exchange wireless spectrum in return for collaborative marketing between two competitors will lead to higher prices for consumers, the Federal Communications Commission seems prepared to approve it, according to a report from the Reuters news agency.

Two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters the FCC has taken the lead on the “spectrum transfer” issue, which involves turning over prime wireless spectrum currently owned by large cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Bright House Networks to Verizon Wireless. The combined licenses the cable industry holds are in the majority of major American cities, which critics charge Verizon will acquire to eliminate any potential competitive threat from a new nationwide wireless carrier.

Verizon’s recent moves to sell off its own “excess” spectrum to its current competitors has garnered favor inside the FCC, according to sources. Verizon Wireless recently agreed to transfer some of that spectrum to T-Mobile USA, which coincidentally was a fierce opponent of the deal between Verizon and cable operators. T-Mobile’s opposition has since muted.

Licenses owned by the cable industry would have been expansive enough to launch a new national wireless competitor. (Image: Phonescoop)

The deal between Verizon and the nation’s top cable companies is worth about $3.9 billion, but the Justice Department continues to signal concerns it would ultimately cost consumers more than that. According to Reuters, Verizon remains in “tougher talks” with lawyers inside the Justice Department who are concerned cooperative marketing between the phone and cable companies would result in decreased competition and higher prices.

One source told Reuters regulators were hoping Verizon’s now-stalled fiber to the home network FiOS would bring major competition to the cable industry, which until then had only faced moderate competition from satellite dish providers. In return, Comcast and other cable operators were expected to invade the wireless phone marketplace, adding needed competition.

Instead, both sides have retreated to their respective positions — Verizon focusing on its wireless service and Comcast and other cable companies abandoning interest in wireless phones and sticking to cable-based products.

The idea that both would begin to cross-market each other’s products is “a problem” according to the Justice source not authorized to speak publicly.

Additionally, concerns are being raised over a proposed “joint operating entity” between Verizon and cable operators that would focus on developing new technologies that could lock out those not in the consortium.

No decision is expected from the Justice Department until August, but Justice officials have signaled they have several options they can pursue:

  1. Sue to stop the spectrum transfer;
  2. Force the companies to modify their proposal to reduce potential collusion;
  3. Approve the deal but monitor how cross-marketing agreements impact on consumer markets for wireless and cable products.

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  • Paul Houle: I can believe in AT&T's plan, but not Comcast. For better or worse, AT&T is going "all in" on video and is unlike other major providers in ...
  • Phillip Dampier: Yes, that battle with Northwest Broadcasting, which also involved stations in Idaho-Wyoming and California, was the nastiest in recent history, with s...
  • Doug Stoffa: Digital takes up way less space than old analog feeds - agreed. In a given 6 MHz block, the cable company can send down 1 NTSC analog station, 2-4 HD...
  • Phillip Dampier: Digital video TV channels occupy next to nothing as far as bandwidth goes. Just look at the huge number of premium international channels loading up o...
  • Doug Stoffa: It's a bit more complicated than that. Television stations (and the networks that provide them programming) have increased their retransmission fees ...
  • Alex sandro: Most of the companies offer their services with contracts but Spectrum cable company offer contract free offers for initial year which is a very good ...
  • John: I live in of the effected counties, believe it or not our village is twenty three miles from WSKG Tower, approxiamately eighty miles from Syracuse, WS...
  • Wilhelm: I'm in the Finger Lakes where Spectrum removed WROC-8 last Fall, but we still get other Rochester channels, WHAM-13, WHEC-10 and WXXI-21. I have to wo...
  • dhkjsalhf: "Another classic case of businesses being much smarter than governments." I don't know whether this was sarcastic or not, but I feel it's a sentiment...
  • New Yorker: It makes no sense. I wonder sometimes if raising the limits on how much money rich people giving to candidates could make it more expensive to buy of...
  • New Yorker: Will New York go through with the threat? As an upstater I have seen infrastructure projects drag on in cost and time (eg. 1.5 yrs to repair a tiny b...
  • Matthew H Mosher: Another classic case of businesses being much smarter than governments....

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