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Kohl Slates Hearing on Verizon–SpectrumCo Deal for March 21

The Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, chaired by Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), has slated its planned hearing on Verizon's purchase of cable spectrum for March 21. The hearing title sets up the debate: "The Verizon/Cable Deals: Harmless Collaboration or a Threat to Competition and Consumers?"

According to the hearing notice, the witnesses will include top execs from Verizon and SpectrumCo principal partner, Comcast, as well as academics and public interest representatives.

SpectrumCo is a consortium owned by Comcast (63%), Time Warner Cable (31.2%) and Bright House (5.3%). Bright House bought the spectrum in the FCC's 2006 AWS (advanced wireless services) auction along with Sprint, which got bought out by the other four in 2007, and Cox, which dropped out in 2009 but took its spectrum with it. Verizon is offering $3.6 billion. It has also struck a deal to buy that spectrum for $325 million. Verizon has not yet filed its application for the Cox purchase, though it will likely make similar arguments.

The witness list: Randal S. Milch, executive VP and general counsel, Verizon Communications Inc.; David L. Cohen, executive VP, Comcast Corp.; Charles F. (Rick) Rule, managing partner, Washington Office, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP; Steven K. Berry, president and CEO, Rural Cellular Association; Joel Kelsey, policy adviser, Free Press; and Timothy Wu, Isidor & Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia University.

The FCC is currently collecting comments from both the "harmless collaboration" and "threat to competition" sides of the deal, though the former characterization is not quite on point, since to pass muster, the deal does not have to be harmless, but instead have public interest benefits that outweigh the potential harms.

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.