Verizon T-Mobile Deal Appeasing FCC To Allow SpectrumCo Swap

According to the rumor mill Verizon’s proposed AWS spectrum swap with T-Mobile and their 700 MHz divestitures are appeasing the FCC into accepting the SpectrumCo swap but the DOJ is still worried about the JOE with the cable companies. Whether the FCC is intent on approving it its reported they won’t do so without DOJ support as well. This is good news for consumers and competition especially if reports are accurate that the DOJ might oppose these sweetheart deals.

Opposition to Verizon’s cable deals continue from public interest groups and consumers wanting to ensure sufficient broadband and mobile broadband competition continue despite the agency resale and joint operating entity agreements
between these companies. Since a Comcast executive has admitted this is an integrated transaction both the DOJ and FCC should be examining both aspects in combination. The fact is as bad as both the license transfer and JOE are individually they are far worse together for consumers. The Consumers Federation of America has even spoken out that the JOE ends the 1996 Telecommunications Act’s competitive promise for consumers by turning competitors into partners so they can divy up the spoils of the Internet market by dividing the Internet amongst themselves. These deals must not be allowed to proceed at least not with the JOE. The license transfer must either be conditionally approved and the JOE denied or both rightly denied.

Stop Verizon & Big Cable’s Shenanigans

As if the “inevitable” AT&T T-Mobile merger rightly killed by federal regulators wasn’t bad enough now Verizon Wireless and a handful of big cable companies want to enter into anti-competitive marketing agreements to divide up the Internet amongst themselves. The agency resale and joint operating entity agreements are part of an anti competitive spectrum licensing transfer filed by SpectrumCo (a consortium of cable companies including Comcast NBC, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks) and Cox Communications. If this  sweetheart deal between Verizon Wireless and Big Cable  is approved what little broadband competition still exists in the fixed wire-line market would disappear with Verizon Communications expected to discontinue expansion of their  land-line FIOS Phone, Internet and TV services into new markets if it does not abandon FIOS service altogether. There’s no way to sugarcoat it these deals would be a disaster for consumers, competition and violate the intent of Congress when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The good news is public interest groups have convinced the FCC in examining whether to approve the license transfer or not to request the companies involved provide them more information on their marketing agreements. As such the FCC must review the commercial agreements and the spectrum transfer in combination even if its review of the marketing agreements are part of a separate proceeding.

After all Comcast’s Executive Vice President David Cohen has admitted that the deals are part of an integrated transaction. There was never any discussion about having the spectrum sale without the commercial agreements. Both the Justice Department and the FCC are examining the deals in combination which public interest groups say should be denied anyways because of the massive spectrum concentration that would occur should the deals be approved. After all both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility have plenty of existing spectrum compared to smaller rivals  in both the national post-paid and pre-paid market(s) and the regional post-paid/pre-paid market(s) like Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, MetroPCS, Leap Wireless (Cricket) and C-Spire Wireless.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to comment yet on the proposed transaction(s) please e-mail the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division at antitrust.complaints@usdoj.gov or file comments with the FCC at their website using docket 12-4. Also contact your member of Congress including your Representative and your U.S. Senators urging their opposition to the transactions. The U.S. Senate recently held an antitrust subcommittee hearing on the proposed deals where Verizon Wireless and Big Cable faced strong criticism. Let’s keep up the pressure and stop Verizon & Big Cable from carving up the Internet amongst themselves.

Fifth Blog Entry Wed Aug 17

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Today I would like to share some potential good news for consumers concerned about media consolidation and reduced competition in the broadband market for high speed Internet access. After AT&T accidentally posted public comments to the FCC proving that it’s merger with T Mobil USA was really about reducing competition and consumer choice, firing workers and raising prices opposition to Ma Bell‘s proposed merger that would set consumers and the wireless market back 30 years is growing. For most of the twentieth century AT&T had a monopoly over wire-line communications in the market for telephone service but its Ma Bell monopoly was fortunately broken up in 1984 by the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division to increase competition and provide consumers more choice. Unfortunately in the 2000s the FCC and US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division chose to revisit that decision and made a historic mistake when they allowed AT&T to reconstitute Ma Bell by re-merging with two of the original Baby Bells SBC Communications and Bell South that had been part of the Ma Bell system. Now if the mergers involving AT&T Mobility, T Mobil USA and Qualcomm were to proceed it would set consumers and the telecommunications market back another 30 years with AT&T and Verizon Wireless controlling nearly 80% of the wireless market. Effectively AT&T and Verizon Wireless would have a near duopoly of the wireless market for post-paid cellular phone services and the mobile broadband market. Today the wireless market is already an anti competitive oligopoly and the wire-line broadband market for fixed high speed Internet access is a duopoly of big cable and phone companies that has gotten worse with Qwest acquiring US West and now merging with CenturyLink. To allow more consolidation in either the wireless or fixed wire-line markets will result in even fewer consumer choices, higher prices, reduced investment and the potential for more market abuse and ISP discrimination online.

Therefore I oppose Ma Bell’s plans to monopolize the Internet and all our communications technologies. I have seen through their empty rhetoric promising that if their allowed to merge it would magically result in increased consumer choice and that they would provide universal access to broadband. Ma Bell wants to create an anti consumer and anti competitive Ma Cell and they must be stopped before it’s too late.

I also have serious concerns about Time Warner Cable the nation’s second largest cable provider for high speed Internet and digital cable TV service buying Insight Communications the ninth largest cable provider of broadband and digital cable TV service in the country. Previously I have also spoken out against the Comcast NBCU merger that was unfortunately approved For it’s anti competitive and anti consumer harms. However, I am pleased because of it’s approval of that merger that the FCC despite opposition by cable companies is strengthening carriage rules.

I worry about not just telecom companies discriminating online but cable providers as well with cable companies setting up unfair bandwidth caps online to discourage consumers from using services from often smaller competitors providing alternative video related services online. The cable companies cannot offer cheap a la carte programming options nor can the satellite TV providers obligated by programmers to bundle channels by the major broadcast and cable TV networks making consumers pay for channels they may not even watch. To this end they might try two things that might be unfair for consumers. First of all since cable companies also provide broadband in addition to their basic and digital cable services they might discriminate against a la care offerings online by capping the bandwidth of users subscribing to their broadband services but exempt their own services unfairly from competitors. Second create proprietary online services for viewing video online and discourage consumers from cutting the cord by bundling online TV offerings with their paid TV offerings requiring consumers pay for bundled channels.

Already a number of paid TV providers to this end have launched TV Everywhere online services for video requiring authentication so only consumers who subscribe to digital cable or satellite TV that have bundled channels can watch TV online. In fact Time Warner Cable and satellite TV provider Dish Network have created native mobile applications for Apple’s iPad devices to stream live TV channels to Apple’s iPads so you can watch TV also on your iPad. However, since it is part of TV Everywhere you can only watch TV programs using their apps on your iPad if you pay either provider for their TV services. TV Everywhere providers are trying to create a walled garden where you can freely watch live TV streamed to an iPad or other devices as long as you don’t cancel your cable or satellite.

On the issue of broadcast retransmission I often side with the TV providers over the greedy programmers wanting the providers to pay them more each time their retransmission contacts are up for renewal. In fact I have supported Time Warner Cable’s Roll Over or Get Tough web campaign urging them to get tough with programmers as any increase in the fees they have to pay programmers would have to be passed on unfairly to consumers. I have even supported Time Warner Cable’s I Want My TwCable TV app web campaign telling greedy programmers wanting providers to pay them more letting consumers stream programs to an iPad that they should not be double dipping. Instead of price gouging providers and consumers the few greedy TV networks should join the supportive TV networks who are allowing their programs to be streamed by providers to iPads using apps like Time Warner Cable’s TWCable TV app and Dish Network’s DISH Remote Access for no additional fees. After all paying for TV even if you don’t have a DVR/HD DVR and video on demand and/or premium movie channels is still expensive because of bundled channels.

One thing I don’t like in the TV market is the lack of customization of digital cable boxes and satellite TV boxes as you cannot install your own software, change the user interface etc. I have been using Apple Macs with Front Row which was unfortunately discontinued for Mac users in OS X Lion but can continue to use it with my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Snow Leopard and do plan to do so. I have chosen not to upgrade to Lion so I can keep using Front Row which in my opinion is the best media center software for the Mac available as it has a great user interface. I have also seen Windows Media Center which is more sophisticated than Front Row as it allows users with TV Tuners in their computers to record live TV via Media Center.

Personally I prefer an application called Virtual Dub though when using Windows PCs for capturing and editing TV programs. I like Boxee and the original Apple TV which let’s you sync content to the device as opposed to the new streaming only model of Apple TV. I think streaming is a great idea but the new streaming only modeI of Apple TV is more limited than the original model which I have. I would prefer syncing and streaming as opposed to the new model’s streaming only emphasis. Both the original Apple TV and the new streaming only model use a Front Row like user interface for navigating and accessing content.

I know Dish Network offers their subscribers Google TV but don’t know why anyone even using Dish Network that wants Google TV would pay Dish Network more for having Google TV when they can simply buy a set top box like the Logitech Revue that comes with Google TV software on their own and use it.