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Kohl to Hold Hearing on Cable Spectrum Sale

Antitrust Subcommittee chair Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) says plans are "well underway" on a hearing on Verizon's deal to buy spectrum from cable operators, a spokesperson for the senator confirms.

Kohl did not characterize the hearing, suggesting it was the committee simply doing its oversight job. "The subcommittee carefully examines questions about competition in the wireless and video markets, with the ultimate goal of protecting consumers and reducing their cable and cell phone bills, and these deals are no exception," he said in a statement.

Following a hearing on the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger, which was also billed as a spectrum deal, Kohl asked Justice and the FCC to block the deal, which they ultimately did.

Verizon has struck a deal to buy the spectrum assets of SpectrumCo, the cable consortium, and from Cox, a former member of SpectrumCo.

SpectrumCo is a consortium owned by Comcast (63%), Time Warner Cable (31.2%) and Bright House (5.3%), which bought the spectrum in the FCC's 2006 AWS (advanced wireless services) auction along with Sprint, which got bought out by the other consortium members in 2007/ Cox dropped out in 2009 but took its spectrum with it. Verizon is offering $3.6 billion for the SpectrumCo holdings and $325 million for Cox's spectrum, subject to FCC approval.

Public Knowledge, which has issues with the deal and associated agreements between Verizon and the cable companies, welcomed the scrutiny.

"Even without the agreements between Verizon, Comcast, and the other cable operators to resell each other's services, this transaction would raise serious concerns about spectrum aggregation and the future wireless competition," said legal director Harold Feld. "But when, in addition, competitors become resellers of each others services, those charged with protecting consumers and promoting competition have a duty to take a very careful look."