FCC's OK seen for Verizon deal

Verizon Wireless seeks to buy unused airwaves from cable providers in a $3.6 billion deal. Above, Verizon official Randal Milch testifying at a hearing on the plan.
Verizon Wireless seeks to buy unused airwaves from cable providers in a $3.6 billion deal. Above, Verizon official Randal Milch testifying at a hearing on the plan. (ANDREW HARRER / Bloomberg)
Posted: August 23, 2012

Verizon Wireless' proposal to buy unused airwaves from cable providers led by Comcast Corp. has enough votes to win regulatory clearance from the Federal Communications Commission, agency officials say.

The five-member agency's two Republican commissioners have cast electronic votes to approve the $3.6 billion deal, joining Democratic chairman Julius Genachowski, said two FCC officials who declined to be identified because the tally has not been made public. The agency's remaining two Democratic members have not yet cast their votes, the officials said.

On Thursday, the deal won antitrust approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which limited cooperation between Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless provider, and the cable companies selling airwaves, a group that includes No. 1 carrier Comcast and Time Warner Cable Inc., the second-largest carrier.

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield declined to comment Tuesday, as did Ed McFadden of Verizon and Sena Fitzmaurice of Comcast.

If left unaltered, the airwaves sale and cooperation pact proposed in December would bring higher prices and lower quality for consumers, the Justice Department said. In June, Verizon agreed to sell airwaves to T-Mobile USA Inc., the smallest of the four nationwide wireless providers.

Verizon, of Basking Ridge, N.J., wants to add airwaves as customers increasingly adopt smartphones to watch video and browse the Web.

Critics of the deal have said the Justice Department's conditions will not do enough to ensure competition in a market characterized by locally exclusive cable companies and a wireless sector dominated by just four players.

Final approval would give Verizon success where No. 2 mobile carrier AT&T Inc. failed last year, when it was barred from buying T-Mobile because it would have eliminated the smaller carrier.

Verizon's proposed sale of spectrum to T-Mobile, contingent on winning approval of the cable-airwaves deal, turned the unit of Deutsche Telekom A.G. from an opponent of the transactions into a supporter.

Bright House Networks contributed some airwaves being sold to Verizon by SpectrumCo, the cable group including Philadelphia-based Comcast and New York-based Time Warner. Separately, Cox Communications agreed to sell airwaves to Verizon for $315 million.

Comcast, which owns 64 percent of SpectrumCo, is to receive about $2.3 billion from the sale, the companies said in December.

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