Verizon Wireless Airwaves Purchase Review Extended by FCC

Regulators added 21 days to an informal time limit for considering Verizon Wireless’s proposed $3.6 billion airwaves purchase from cable providers led by Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc.

The Federal Communications Commission extended its nonbinding 180-day clock for finishing its review, according to a letter posted today on the agency’s website. The companies were slow to provide documents, the FCC said.

The Communications Workers of America asked the agency on April 20 to halt the review, saying the companies were late in producing documents that in some cases couldn’t be searched or read. Verizon and the cable companies told the FCC yesterday they would provide documents in a searchable format.

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 and No. 2 Time Warner Cable. The companies pledged joint marketing.

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 said the spectrum purchase will give it airwaves needed to meet soaring demand from smartphones and data-hungry tablet computers such as Apple Inc.’s iPad.

“This brief extension keeps the review process moving,” Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman, said in an interview.

Reset Clock

The CWA 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.

“Today’s FCC decision simply shows that as federal regulators look more closely at this proposal, the more they are seeing the potential problems,” Debbie Goldman, CWA’s telecommunications policy director, said in an e-mailed statement.

The FCC halted a merger clock for about five weeks 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 103rd day before today’s FCC action, and was set back to 82 days after the agency sent its letter.

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 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.

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