Verizon defends cable spectrum deal at Senate hearing


"There is no incentive for Verizon to lay down its weapons in the FiOS-cable battle," he said. "Opposition by some of our competitors should be seen in its proper context... Antitrust laws should be to protect competition, not to insulate other companies from competition."

The controversy over Verizon's spectrum holdings started last year when Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House agreed to sell Verizon 122 AWS spectrum licenses that covered 259 million points of presence for $3.6 billion. Verizon subsequently worked out a similar deal with Cox Communications involving $315 million in licenses for 20MHz of AWS spectrum.

In addition to inviting representatives from Verizon and Comcast to the panel today, the Senate Judiciary Committee also invited several critics to discuss their objections. Steven Berry, the CEO of the Rural Cellular Association, argued that Verizon already owns substantial spectrum reserves in many major markets and does not need further spectrum to remain competitive. Berry said if the government approves the deal, it needs to place several requirements on spectrum use to preserve competition among smaller carriers, such as forcing Verizon to divest in certain spectrum holdings and mandating that Verizon offer small carriers affordable roaming and backhaul agreements.

John Kelsey, a policy adviser for public interest group Free Press, argued more strongly against the deal as a whole by pointing out that the wireless industry has already seen tremendous consolidation over the past decade, including mergers between Sprint and Nextel, AT&T and Cingular and Verizon and Alltel. He said that since spectrum is a finite resource, carriers that acquire large chunks of it can effectively shut out competitors by raising barriers to entering the market.

"We truly have a competition crisis," he said. "Acquiring spectrum is the best way to assure that competitors cannot mount a serious challenge."