Carriers, policy groups join up to (sort of) stop Verizon-cable deal

T-Mobile, Sprint(s s), rural carriers and advocacy group Public Knowledge have teamed up to create a mobile version of the Super Friends, their sole mission to battle the Verizon-cable Legion of Doom. Called the Alliance for Broadband Competition, the loose-knit group of companies and organizations is committed to opposing Verizon’s multi-faceted spectrum sale and cross-selling partnership with the cable operators, but they can’t seem to agree on exactly how they would oppose it.

At a media call on Monday to kick off the alliance, members ticked off their objections to the deal. The Rural Cellular Association CEO Steve Barry said the RCA doesn’t actually oppose the spectrum sale. Instead, it wants to see the Federal Communications Commission impose conditions on the license transfer that would force interoperability in the LTE 700 MHz bands.

If Verizon gets hold of cable operators’ Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum, and then sells off its excess 700 MHz licenses as planned, Verizon and AT&T would effectively create private LTE bands, making it extremely difficult for other operators to get devices and sign roaming agreements, Barry said.

“They can almost create their own walled gardens within their own 4G network services,” Barry said.

Meanwhile T-Mobile wants to stop the spectrum sale itself, preventing Verizon from “warehousing” what little valuable 4G spectrum remains. Public Knowledge’s primary concern was the joint-operating entity that Verizon would create with Comcast(s cmsca) and Time Warner Cable(s twc), which PK legal director Harold Feld said would allow the biggest mobile carrier and biggest cable operators to dictate de facto technology standards to the detriment of consumers. The American Antitrust Institute and Free Press – which aren’t official Alliance members, but participated in the kick-off – focused on the competitive and legal implications of Verizon and the cable operators dividing the wireline and wireless markets between them.

The Alliance almost resembles the Occupy Wall Street movement. While all of the Alliance’s members have legitimate gripes with the deal, they don’t seem to be in agreement over their demands — which parts of the deal should be killed or even if it should be killed at all. It makes me wonder if their individual efforts to block the deal would be far more effective than joining forces.

Verizon was fairly dismissive of the initiative, saying that the Alliance is merely trying to rehash old complaints by presenting them under a coalition banner. Verizon spokesman Rich Young told me an email statement:

“This faux-coalition is ‘old whine in a new bottle.’  The same companies and political groups, making the same claims, that have already been filed at the FCC on the SpectrumCo deal. In short, there is nothing new here. Verizon Wireless has responded to each of these claims in our filings on multiple occasions, has addressed them with the FCC, and is confident that we have a made a strong case on bringing unused spectrum to meet the needs of consumers is in the public interest. “

Image courtesy of Flickr user levork