FCC Asked to Give Groups More Time To Review Verizon/Cable Spectrum Filings

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Organizations opposed to top cable operators' sale of spectrum to Verizon Wireless are citing technical difficulties in accessing the documents the companies have filed with the federal government, and are asking regulators to extend the time for them to review those documents and provide comments.

Public advocacy groups, the Communications Workers of America, Sprint Nextel, and DirecTV have asked the Federal Communications Commission to “stop the clock” on its merger review, saying they've encountered software problems when trying to open some of the documents that Verizon and the MSOs have filed.

“The Commission has taken significant steps toward making its process transparent by allowing authorized personnel to review and analyze the documentation that it has required from the Applicants,” they wrote in a letter to the commission dated April 24. “Now, considering the delays in receiving data and the technical challenges involved, the Commission should take the further step of giving reviewers the additional time that is necessary to study the documents and data and respond to the Commission with cogent analysis.”

The groups said that the applicants are willing to provide paper copies of the filings, but the steep fees they are charging to do so are beyond the reach of some public interest groups. They did not specify the amount of extra time they need to review the files, but say they want enough time “to ensure a meaningful opportunity for review of the relevant materials and the preparation of insightful comment on these transformative arrangements.”

The FCC has set a 180-day review period for the sale, and is currently on day 96 of that review. The agency has often gone beyond such review target dates.

Verizon has proposed paying $3.9 billion to buy advanced wireless services spectrum from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communications. The additional airwaves would give Verizon much-needed capacity as it builds out its faster-speed mobile broadband network nationwide.

As part of the transaction, the cable operators' will all be sold through Verizon Wireless stores in those companies' service territories, while the cable providers will cross-promote Verizon Wireless services through their call centers and websites.

But critics say the transaction would give VZW an unfair competitive advantage in the wireless market and--in the wireline space where Verizon sells its FiOS services--would suppress competition between the telco and its cable partners.