Federal regulators said today they needed more time to review Verizon's deal to acquire spectrum from the cable providers and cross-sell cable and wireless services.
The Federal Communications Commission extended the typical 180-day review period by 21 days to give it sufficient time to examine the reams of documents that were submitted late by Verizon and the cable companies. Opponents have lauded the FCC's move, claiming the agency has "stopped the clock" on the deal, signalling deeper concerns about the transaction. But the move only marks an extension, and not an actual pause, in the process.
"Assuming the adequacy of the current productions in response to the requests, we do not anticipate further extension of the 180-day period on account of the matters discussed above," said Rick Kaplan, head of the wireless telecommunications bureau for the FCC, in a letter.
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Verizon has entered into a deal to acquire spectrum from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, and Cox Communications. In addition, the companies have agreed to sell each others' services, with both parties offering a bundle of wireless, pay-TV, and Internet services.
Critics have attacked the deal for multiple reasons. Rival wireless carriers fear Verizon will hoard the spectrum and expressed concern that too much power already rests in the hands of Verizon and AT&T. Consumer groups have attacked the cross-selling portion as anti-competitive and warned of potential price hikes down the line.
"Today's FCC decision simply shows that as federal regulators look more closely at this proposal, the more they are seeing the potential problems," said Debbie Goldman, representative for the Communications Workers of America, the union that represents Verizon employees. The CWA had previously sent a letter to the FCC, alongside rival carriers, seeking a halt to the review process.
Verizon, for its part, is unfazed by the delay.
"Verizon Wireless strongly believes it has made the case that putting unused spectrum to use to meet consumer needs is in the public interest," said a company representative. "This brief extension keeps the review process moving and on track, while providing additional time for parties to review the submitted documents."
Verizon is trying to avoid the fate of the AT&T-T-Mobile deal, which was met with insurmountable hurdles as regulators threatened to quash the megamerger. Verizon has argued that because it doesn't compete against the cable providers on wireless service, it shouldn't face the same level of scrutiny.