A raft of Verizon’s biggest critics have banded together to try and block Big Red’s purchase of 4G airwaves from the cable providers – or at least delay it. On Tuesday, Sprint, DirecTV, FairPoint Communications and a broad range of the consumer advocacy and mobile industry groups joined the Communication Workers of America’s petition to halt regulatory proceedings over the deal.
Most of these companies and organizations have always been opposed from the beginning, but their current beefs are the mounds of paperwork that Verizon and its cable partners have filed with the Federal Communications Commission and delays in getting their hands on any meaningful information. They have asked the FCC to stop the 180-day “shot clock” for approving the transaction to give them a chance to review and weigh in on Verizon’s mammoth filing.
The signatories on the letter also included Public Knowledge, Free Press, the Media Access Project, the Rural Cellular Association, the Rural Telecommunications Group and the Open Technology Initiative. Though T-Mobile didn’t join this petition, it made its opposition to the deal known in meetings with the FCC last week.
Whether they are successful in halting proceedings remains to be seen, but ultimately they have little chance of stopping the final deal from going through. Unlike the AT&T’s failed bid for T-Mobile, Verizon’s purchase of the cable operators’ spectrum doesn’t knock any major competitors out of the market. It’s a pretty straightforward license transaction: transferring a bunch of 4G airwaves from the hands of companies that aren’t using it to the hands to a company that will.
The U.S. Department of Justice may not look too favorably on Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner’s decision to divide the residential broadband and wireless markets among them, but that won’t affect the spectrum sale. The FCC may place conditions on the deal, the biggest of which could be requiring Verizon to divest some of its spectrum holdings. Verizon tried to beat the FCC to the punch last week by announcing it would sell off some of its 700 MHz licenses if the cable deal were approved. Rather than appease critics, the spectrum sale revelation only irked them more.
“Verizon is trying to use the mere offer of a spectrum sale tempt the FCC and the Justice Department into approving the deal with the cable companies, and the agencies should resist the temptation,” Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld said in a statement. “Recent history of such spectrum sell-offs shows that when Verizon and AT&T sell off spectrum, it’s Verizon who buys AT&T’s, and vice versa. Having AT&T buy Verizon spectrum in this instance would do nothing to change to help consumers.”