Union Asks FCC to Slow Review of Verizon, Cable Deal

A union asked regulators to suspend consideration of Verizon Wireless’s proposed airwaves purchase from cable providers, saying the companies aren’t allowing full scrutiny of the $3.6 billion deal.

The Federal Communications Commission should stop its nonbinding 180-day clock for finishing its review, the Communications Workers of America told the agency in a letter today. The companies were late in producing documents that in some cases can’t be searched or read, the union said.

Verizon, the largest U.S. mobile provider, announced in December the purchase of unused airwaves from a group led by top U.S. cable company Comcast Corp. and No. 2 Time Warner Cable Inc. The companies pledged joint marketing. Verizon said regulators shouldn’t scrutinize cooperative arrangements. The agency asked for details last month.

“The applicants are trying avoid real scrutiny,” Debbie Goldman, telecommunications policy director for the Communications Workers, said in an interview. “From the beginning the parties have tried to keep the commercial agreements secret, and that’s the crux of this deal -- what former competitors have now agreed to do together.”

Documents given to deal critics have lacked indexes that make their information searchable, and in some cases have arrived in formats that researchers can’t read, Goldman said. The union, which has said that competition creates jobs for its members, is in contract negotiations with Verizon Wireless and its parent company, Verizon Communications Inc.

Reduced Competition Concern

The accords make allies of cable companies pushing into the phone business and Verizon Wireless, whose parent has entered cable’s traditional video business.

Opponents have said the deals would bring less competition and higher prices. Verizon says the spectrum purchase will bring it airwaves needed to meet soaring demand from smartphones and data-hungry tablet computers such as Apple Inc.’s iPad.

“We have cooperated fully in responding to the FCC’s requests for information, and are continuing to cooperate to make sure we get them any information they need,” Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Tom Tauke, a Verizon executive vice president, said in an interview yesterday that “we believe that the FCC is making a very thorough analysis of the license transfer and that they’re on track to give approval in July.”

Could Resume Review

The FCC can halt and restart the clock as it awaits information from applicants. The agency halted the clock for 37 days last year as it considered AT&T Inc.’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile USA Inc., a deal that later was scrapped amid regulatory opposition. The clock for the Verizon-cable deal stood at its 92nd day today.

The union in February told the FCC the deal raises “serious competitive concerns.”

The Justice Department is separately considering the marketing agreements.

Verizon said April 18 it will sell other spectrum licenses it purchased in 2008 if it can complete the purchase under scrutiny from the FCC and Justice Department. The timing of the sale announcement isn’t tied to the progress of the spectrum purchase at the FCC, Peter Thonis, a Verizon spokesman, said in an e-mail that day.

The FCC also is examining Verizon Wireless’s proposed $315 million airwaves purchase and cooperation agreement with Cox Communications Inc.

Verizon Wireless, based in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, is 55 percent-owned by Verizon and 45 percent-owned by Vodafone Group Plc, based in Newbury, England.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia-based Comcast, and Alex Dudley, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner, didn’t immediately return telephoned requests to comment.

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