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Witnesses set for Senate hearing on Verizon, cable AWS sale

Mon, 03/19/2012 - 2:48pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Executives from Verizon Communications and Comcast will square off against the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) and Free Press at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing later this week on Verizon Wireless' $3.9 billion acquisition of nationwide AWS spectrum from four cable operators.

Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl, chairman of the committee, last month scheduled the hearing for March 21 but had not provided a witness list for the hearing, titled "The Verizon/cable deals: Harmless collaboration or a threat to competition and consumers?”

Kohl is the same senator who led a hearing on AT&T's attempted merger with T-Mobile USA last spring and later asked the FCC and Justice Department to block the transaction.

Kohl's office said Friday that witnesses would include Verizon Communications general counsel Randal Milch, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, Rural Cellular Association President and CEO Steve Berry, and Free Press policy advisor Joel Kelsey. A managing partner from a top Washington law firm is also expected to testify, as well as a Columbia University law professor.

Free Press and the RCA have expressed reservations about the spectrum sale, arguing it could consolidate too much of the nation's valuable spectrum resources with Verizon.

"The proposed acquisitions raise serious anti-competitive concerns, including spectrum warehousing by Verizon and further industry spectrum consolidation," the RCA said last month, arguing for stringent conditions on the transaction.

They have also asked the FCC to investigate a marketing and cross-selling arrangement Verizon and the cable companies forged at the same time as the AWS deal.

The RCA and Free Press were both vocal opponents to AT&T's attempted takeover of T-Mobile USA.

Verizon says it needs the spectrum to keep up with soaring demand for mobile broadband services. It says it could run into spectrum shortages in some markets as early as next year, with more widespread problems expected to surface in 2015.

The FCC is currently conducting a review of the transaction and recently asked for more detailed information on the marketing side deal.

Verizon announced late last year that it was buying 122 AWS licenses from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks for $3.6 billion and inked a separate deal to buy an additional 30 AWS licenses from Cox Communications for $315 million. The airwaves will be used to beef up capacity on Verizon's LTE network, which uses the 700 MHz band.

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