FCC extends review of Verizon's cable deals by three weeks

The FCC extended its review of Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) purchase of AWS spectrum from a group of cable companies by 21 weeks because the companies had not produced documents the FCC had requested on time.

In extending the deadline the FCC did not stop the informal and nonbinding 180-day "shot clock" it has for reviewing transactions. However, the delay could give more ammunition to the deal's opponents, which have charged that Verizon and the cable companies have not provided enough documents that the public can easily access, particularly on the cross-marketing deals the companies have agreed to. Debbie Goldman, telecommunications policy director for the Communications Workers of America, which had urged the FCC to halt the "shot clock," said FCC's decision "simply shows that as federal regulators look more closely at this proposal, the more they are seeing the potential problems."

Rick Kaplan, the chief of the FCC's wireless bureau, wrote to the companies that their "untimely productions have delayed staff's review of the proposed transactions by at least three weeks."

In December, Verizon agreed to pay $3.6 billion for the nationwide AWS spectrum licenses held by SpectrumCo, a joint venture of cable companies Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Separately, Verizon said it will buy Cox Communication's 20 MHz of AWS spectrum covering 28 million POPs for $315 million. All of the deals include the option of Verizon reselling cable services and cable companies reselling Verizon service. The cable companies can also become MVNOs of Verizon.

Verizon and the cable companies said in a filing on April 30 that they would take additional steps to make sure other parties can access the documents they have submitted to the FCC. In March the FCC had asked the companies for more details on the deals and for Verizon to explain how it uses its spectrum holdings. Verizon, which currently has AWS spectrum that it is not using but plans to use for LTE services, said in April it will sell all of its 700 MHz Lower A and B Block spectrum in exchange for getting regulatory approval for the AWS deals.

Verizon seemed unfazed by the FCC's move. "Verizon Wireless strongly believes it has made the case that putting unused spectrum to use to meet consumer needs is in the public interest," the company told CNET. "This brief extension keeps the review process moving and on track, while providing additional time for parties to review the submitted documents."

There is other pressure building against the deal though. Last week two senior lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee called for a hearing to examine the spectrum deals. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the committee, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), asking that he hold a hearing to examine the deals.

For more:
- see this FCC letter (PDF)
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this CNET article
- see this The Hill article

Related Articles:
T-Mobile's Humm: Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum sale isn't enough
Analysis: AT&T, MetroPCS might purchase Verizon's 700 MHz spectrum
Verizon: We'll sell 700 MHz spectrum to get cable companies' AWS spectrum
T-Mobile: We use spectrum 50% more efficiently than Verizon in top markets
RCA: Verizon warehousing 44 MHz in some markets, doesn't need more
Verizon's Mead presses Genachowski on getting cable companies' spectrum