Five cities ask FCC to reject Verizon’s collaboration with cable TV operators

Groups of elected officials and consumer advocates from Albany, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo and Syracuse voiced their “deep concerns” to the FCC last week about a secretive deal between Verizon Wireless and the nation’s largest cable companies.

If approved, this deal would lead to higher prices, the groups said, fewer options and a growing digital divide for consumers in the five cities and across the country.

Verizon Wireless, Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Bright House Networks have reached an agreement on a transaction that has two parts. Verizon Wireless and the four cable companies will jointly market each other’s products allowing them to offer a “quadruple play” of video, Internet access, voice and wireless service that would eliminate competition. Verizon Wireless would also pay $3.9 billion to buy wireless spectrum from the four cable companies.

This proposed corporate alliance—if approved by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—would limit competition, raise prices, eliminate jobs and end Verizon’s deployment of its all-fiber network, leaving many consumers and businesses on the wrong side of the digital divide, the opponents said.

While Verizon has built its fiber-optic FiOS network in surrounding suburbs, it has failed to invest in each of the five cities. The residents of these cities are lower income and have a higher proportion of African American and Hispanic residents than their suburban neighbors where Verizon has deployed its FiOS network.

In letters to the FCC, elected officials and community advocates from these major cities expressed concern that if the current deal is approved, Verizon would have little incentive to expand FiOS to their communities, meaning fewer consumer options, lost jobs, higher prices and an unchecked monopoly for urban consumers.

Meanwhile, over 130,000 Americans signed an online petition opposing the deal.

“This type of agreement is not in the best interest of those who need to get and stay connected the most: low-income communities and families. This is a step backwards in bridging the digital divide, and builds an additional socio-economic barrier. Television and Internet access are tools for learning in our community,” said Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, who was joined by dozens of elected officials and civic groups who are concerned about the deal.

The groups opposing the deal include the Communications Workers of America, United Steelworkers Union, the Coalition of Economic Justice, the National Lawyers Guild-Massachusetts chapter and the Union of Minority Neighborhoods.