Verizon spectrum deal with cable companies could get Senate hearing

Verizon's spectrum deal with several cable companies could soon come under the same government scrutiny that AT&T received during its attempted merger with T-Mobile.

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Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, announced today that he plans on holding a hearing that will put Verizon's spectrum deal with several cable companies under the microscope. While Kohl didn't announce any specific dates or witnesses for the proposed hearing, he did say that plans for the hearing were "well under way."

"The subcommittee carefully examines questions about competition in the wireless and video markets, with the ultimate goal of protecting consumers and reducing their cable and cell phone bills, and these deals are no exception," Kohl said in a statement released to the media.

News of Kohl's proposed hearing comes less than two months after the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that it is also examining Verizon's recent agreements to buy wireless spectrum licenses from multiple cable companies to see if they violate antitrust law. In particular the DOJ will look into whether the deals are giving Verizon too much control over wireless spectrum that will be used to build and operate 4G LTE networks.

Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House agreed late last year to sell Verizon 122 AWS spectrum licenses that covered 259 million points of presence for $3.6 billion. Verizon subsequently worked out a similar deal with Cox Communications involving $315 million in licenses for 20MHz of AWS spectrum. Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead has said the spectrum purchase "solidifies our network leadership into the future" and would allow Verizon to deliver better 4G LTE services to its users.

Both wireless carriers and the FCC have made freeing up more mobile spectrum a major priority to help meet demands for mobile data on 4G networks. The FCC last year projected that growth in wireless data demand will lead to a "spectrum deficit" of 275MHz if no new spectrum is released by 2014. There is currently 547MHz of spectrum available for dual use in mobile voice and data services.

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