OVERNIGHT TECH: Local officials urge FCC to block Verizon-cable deal

THE LEDE: Local officials in five cities told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday that Verizon's proposed collaboration with Comcast and other cable TV players could discourage Verizon from expanding its own FiOS cable network to their communities.

The deal allows Verizon to buy airwaves, known as spectrum, from cable companies including Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. Under a separate deal announced simultaneously, Verizon and the cable companies agreed to cross-sell each other’s services.

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While Verizon has built out its FiOS network in communities across the country, it has focused much of its investment on suburban areas, where it is easier to deploy physical infrastructure. The officials and community groups from Albany, N.Y., Baltimore, Md., Boston, Mass., Buffalo, N.Y. and Syracuse, N.Y., told the FCC that the deal would deprive their cities of the benefits of competition.

Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin said the agreement "is not in the best interest of those who need to get and stay connected the most," and that low-income communities and families would suffer from higher prices caused by a lack of competition.

"This is a step backwards in bridging the digital divide," she said, adding that the deal would build "an additional socio-economic barrier." 

Civic leaders representing Baltimore and Boston said a failure to fully build out FiOS caused by the agreement would leave both cities at a disadvantage both in terms of infrastructure and job creation. Baltimore residents would certainly suffer from direct job losses if Verizon fails to employ the hundreds of technicians that would be needed to build and maintain a citywide fiber network. And the "indirect costs of this deal are even higher," wrote State Delegate Curt Anderson, warning that "the lack of competition in telecommunications will raise prices and reduce service quality,”

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But Verizon general counsel Randal Milch told a Senate committee last week that the company never planned on expanding FiOS beyond its current footprint. 

A Verizon spokesman argued that the deal will actually expand Internet access in urban areas because it will allow Verizon to improve its high-speed wireless network.

"The purchase of spectrum that is under review at the FCC is focused on providing consumers with the capacity to get the most out of their 4G LTE devices, and therefore, we think that the purchase is squarely in the public interest, particularly for consumers in communities who are looking for wireless high-speed broadband connectivity," the spokesman said. "As we have stated before, this spectrum purchase is unrelated to our clear and longstanding deployment plans for FiOS, which currently includes deployment in cities from Washington, DC to Philadelphia to New York, and in communities where we were able to reach franchise agreements."


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