Executives from Verizon Communications
and Comcast will square off against the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) and
Free Press at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing later this week on Verizon
Wireless’ $3.9 billion acquisition of nationwide AWS spectrum from four cable
Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl, chairman
of the committee, last month scheduled the hearing for March 21, but had not
provided a witness list for the hearing, titled “The Verizon/Cable Deals:
Harmless Collaboration or a Threat to Competition and Consumers?”
Kohl is the same senator who led a
hearing on AT&T’s attempted merger with T-Mobile USA last spring and later
asked the FCC and Justice Department to block the transaction.
Kohl’s office said Friday that witnesses
would include Verizon Communications General Counsel Randal Milch, Comcast
Executive Vice President David Cohen, Rural Cellular Association President and
CEO Steve Berry and Free Press Policy Advisor Joel Kelsey. A managing partner
from a top Washington law firm is also expected to testify, as well as a
Columbia University law professor.
Free Press and the RCA have expressed
reservations about the spectrum sale, arguing it could consolidate too much of
the nation’s valuable spectrum resources with Verizon.
“The proposed acquisitions raise
serious anti-competitive concerns, including spectrum warehousing by Verizon
and further industry spectrum consolidation,” the RCA said in a statement
last month that argued for stringent conditions on the transaction.
They have also asked the FCC to
investigate a marketing and cross-selling arrangement Verizon and the cable
companies forged at the same time as the AWS deal.
The RCA and Free Press were both vocal
opponents to AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile USA.
Verizon says it needs the spectrum to
keep up with soaring demand for mobile broadband services. It says it could run
into spectrum shortages in some markets as early as next year, with more
widespread problems expected to surface in 2015.
The FCC is currently conducting a review
of the transaction and recently asked for more detailed information on the
marketing side deal.
Verizon announced late last year that it
was buying 122 AWS licenses from Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House
Networks for $3.6 billion and inked a separate deal to buy an additional 30 AWS
licenses from Cox Communications for $315 million. The airwaves will be used to
beef up capacity on Verizon’s LTE network, which uses the 700 MHz band.