FCC Asks Verizon, Cable Partners for Redacted Details

Verizon and its potential cable partners deemed some details of their deal too private to share with the FCC in a recent document. The FCC is now asking to know more.

The Federal Communications Commission has asked Verizon Wireless, Cox Communications and the entities of SpectrumCo€”Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks€”to share some information that it left out of a nearly 300-page March 2 correspondence submitted to FCC, deeming the details too top-secret.

In order to fully consider the $3.9 billion agreement that Verizon hopes to enter into with its cable partners, the FCC said in a March 8 letter that it requires €œadditional information and clarification of certain matters discussed in the applications and other information provided to the Commission.€

The FCC has requested that all parties respond no later than March 22.

The FCC also wrote to Comcast March 7, asking that, by March 12, it submit a revised copy of the agreement between the parties€”being called the Cellco Partnership€”that includes redacted information related to three particular sections of the document.

Notably, the FCC said it plans to consider marketing agreements that are a part of the sale€”and that have been pointed to with great concern by lawmakers, such as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), consumer advocacy groups, such as Public Knowledge, and U.S. carriers, including T-Mobile, Sprint and the Rural Telecommunications Group.

Exacerbating the matter, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, in an interview with Politico released March 8, explained that the spectrum sale and marketing agreements are of a whole€”that there is no one without the other.

"The transaction is an integration transaction. There was never any discussion about selling the spectrum without having the commercial agreements," Cohen said.

The comment prompted a letter to the FCC the same morning, by representatives from T-Mobile, Sprint, Rural Telecommunications Group, Media Access Project, Free Press, Public Knowledge and DirecTV, who wrote that comment undid the "Cellco" assertion that the commercial agreements are unrelated to the spectrum sales and so not under the FCC's jurisdiction.

They continued:

"Equally disturbing is Applicants€™ apparently evolving position with respect to Department of Justice jurisdiction. In their prior submissions to the Commission, they argued that the Commission need not consider the commercial agreements because €œthey are already the subject of review by the . . . Antitrust Division.€Now, however, they appear to be saying that even DOJ lacks jurisdiction over those agreements.If nothing else, such gamesmanship only underscores the importance of transparency in this proceeding. The Commission must ensure that the record includes complete and unredacted versions of the commercial agreements, and that interested parties are given sufficient opportunity to review and comment upon them."

Since at least Feb. 3, interested parties have been appealing to the FCC to force Verizon and its partners to reveal the details of their "commercial agreements," which were first hinted at in a Dec. 2 blog post by Comcast President Neil Smit, the same day the deal was announced.

"Four years from signing, Comcast could become a reseller of Verizon Wireless' service through a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement. Comcast could purchase Verizon Wireless' service at wholesale rates and then market and sell its own, branded wireless service in connection with our bundled offerings, creating more choice for consumers," Smit wrote.

Sen. Franken and others have expressed worry that, by turning competitors into allies, the deal would have the opposite effect, both lessening choices for consumers and raising prices.