This Week in Tech: Senate to probe Verizon-cable deal

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The witnesses will be Randal Milch, Verizon's general counsel; David Cohen, Comcast's vice president; Steven Berry, CEO of the Rural Cellular Association; Joel Kelsey, policy adviser for consumer group Free Press; and Timothy Wu, a Columbia University law professor who specializes in Internet, communications and antitrust issues.

Wu served as chairman of Free Press from 2008 to 2011.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department are probing whether the deals will hurt competition in the wireless industry.

The Rural Cellular Association, other wireless carriers including Sprint and T-Mobile and consumer groups such as Free Press argue the spectrum deal will allow Verizon, the nation's largest wireless carrier, to consolidate its control over the airwaves, stifling competition. The groups also argue that the cross-marketing deals could lead to price-fixing or other anticompetitive behavior.

Verizon said the spectrum deal will help it meet the growing demands posed by smartphones and tablet computers. The company pointed out that the cable companies have no immediate plans to use the spectrum licenses.

Verizon said the business arrangement with the cable companies is unrelated to the spectrum sale and does not run afoul of antitrust law.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell will testify about their agency's budget at a Monday hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

McDowell is the lone Republican on the commission, which currently has three members and two nominees tied up in the Senate.

As part of the president's 2013 budget request, the FCC is slotted to receive about $346 million, a 2 percent increase over last year's funding.

The funding includes money for deploying broadband, implementing an overhaul of the agency's Universal Service Fund, improving the agency's computer systems and investing in technical tools to examine interference issues.

The FCC will vote Wednesday morning on whether to move forward with a proposal to convert blocks of spectrum from satellite use to cellphone use.

Much of the spectrum belongs to satellite television provider Dish Network, which plans to launch its own wireless carrier. The company had hoped the FCC would grant it a simple waiver, but the agency decided instead to go through a formal rulemaking process to re-designate the spectrum, which could take nine months or longer.

Setting aside additional spectrum for wireless broadband fits within the FCC's goal of expanding Internet access.

The FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver to operate cell towers on satellite spectrum, but the agency is now moving to block the planned network after testing showed it could interfere with GPS devices.

FCC officials said the spectrum bands the commission is considering Wednesday are not near GPS frequencies and are unlikely to cause interference problems.