Verizon Wireless is in the throes of fending off opponents after the company gave the FCC copies of commercial agreements with several of the nation’s largest cable companies. The FCC is in the process of deciding whether to approve the cable companies’ plans to sell their unused spectrum to Verizon Wireless—a decision that, according to Verizon, is unrelated to the co-marketing agreements that the carrier and the cable companies announced at the same time they announced the spectrum deal. Nevertheless, when the FCC asked for copies of the marketing agreements, Verizon and the cable companies complied—under the condition that only redacted versions would be made available publicly.
Several public interest groups and several wireless and cable competitors want to see what’s in the redacted sections of those letters and have written to the FCC to ask for that information to be released. One letter came from Free Press, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Greenlining Institute. The other came from Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, DirecTV, the Rural Telecommunications Group and the Rural Cellular Association.
In their own letter to the FCC, Verizon Wireless and the cable companies argued that the redactions made are “limited, reasonable and consistent with past commission rulings.” The redacted information, the companies said, is “commercially sensitive (in addition to being irrelevant to the commission’s review of these spectrum transactions).”
The letter also argues that if the information were disclosed, it could “significantly harm the parties by providing competitors and potential competitors… with information about, among other things, specific competitive pricing and metrics for establishing compensation, marketing strategies both generally and for individual customers, as well as detailed marketing roll-out plans.”
I suspect Verizon Wireless and the companies will prevail in this dispute. But it’s not surprising that opponents are attempting to obtain the redacted information—particularly considering that the same sort of information played a key role in preventing government entities from approving AT&T’s plan to acquire T-Mobile.
The situation involving Verizon Wireless and the cable companies is substantially different however. As the companies note in their letter, “The commercial agreements do not involve the transfer of any commission licenses and do not require the commission’s approval. Further, the commercial agreements and the license purchase agreements are not contingent upon each other. If the license purchase agreements are not approved, the commercial agreements nevertheless will remain in effect, and if the parties were to terminate the commercial agreements, the license purchase agreements would still be effective.”
Verizon Wireless already has begun co-marketing its services with at least one of its cable partners. If there was anything in the commercial agreements suggesting there was anything wrong with that, it would have been up to government to take some sort of action. But nothing along those lines has transpired and unless it does, it would seem highly unlikely that the FCC will release the redacted information.