FCC Delays Threaten to Hurt Wireless Consumers

America’s communications regulatory regime is broken. Case in point: prior government approval is needed for what should be a run of the mill marketplace transaction. In order to get the FCC approval needed to consummate a proposed spectrum purchase from Cox and SpectrumCo, Verizon Wireless has offered to divest some of its most valuable spectrum licenses. But the Commission continues to drag its feet.

Faced with an impending spectrum shortage, many wireless carriers are aggressively seeking more spectrum. Verizon Wireless, for its part, wants to buy a chunk of spectrum that cable companies acquired in 2006 through a bungled FCC attempt to force competition in the industry by allowing cable companies to buy up wireless spectrum. But the cable companies’ wireless services were never launched, and the spectrum at issue lies fallow to this day.

The Commission launched its investigation of the proposed spectrum deal due to concerns about concentration – essentially an inquiry into how much spectrum is in how few hands – an approach borrowed from outdated antitrust analysis. As the Commission is only guided by what it determines to be in the “public interest,” (47 U.S.C. 310(d)) CEI filed comments stressing that putting unused spectrum to use could only improve the status quo. The Commission should be concerned with consumer welfare, not just the welfare of Verizon’s competitors.

Now that additional filings have come in, the Commission claims it needs another three weeks to render a decision, despite Verizon going above the usual requirements, providing all filings in an electronically searchable format. As there are no other potential buyers for this unused spectrum and the current owners have no plans to put it to use, it is difficult to see how the Commission could find the sale contrary to the public interest.

Instead of dithering over the spectrum deal, the FCC should give Verizon Wireless the green light. Trying to micro-manage the fast-moving mobile communications industry from Washington is a disservice to wireless device owners across the country who benefit from greater deployment of mobile services.