A Foolish Week of Telecom

Last summer, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate's Antitrust Subcommittee, sent a strongly worded letter to the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice that the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile "would likely cause substantial harm to competition and consumers, would be contrary to antitrust law ... [and] should be blocked by your agencies."

Now Sen. Kohl has set his committee's sights on reviewing the dealVerizon made with several cable companies last December that would give the carrier a large number of wireless spectrum licenses in return for $3.9 billion in cash and co-marketing arrangements.

The potential devil is in the marketing agreements, the details of which Verizon and the cable companies have been reluctant to divulge. But the subcommittee plans on holding hearings "to examine the impact of Verizon's spectrum purchase from a number of cable companies and a separate marketing agreement to cross-sell each other's products," Kohl said in a statement.

Oh, LightSquared, say it isn't so
LightSquared, whose attempts to become Sprint Nextel's (NYS: S) 4G LTE network provider have been stymied by the Federal Communications Commission's findings that its network's signal interferes with GPS signals, has received some good news and some bad news.

First, the FCC has decided to give the company some breathing space with a public-comment period for its application. This move fits in with the added time that Sprint has given LightSquared to get its network approved.

But now the bad news: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been investigating whether LightSquared's application was improperly partially approved last year, has accused the company of trying to bribe the senator to get his support. Grassley wrote last week that a man suggested to one of his staff that if LightSquared was approved, then Iowa might receive a call center. The law firm representing LightSquared rebutted Grassley's allegation in a letter, saying that the man did not work for LightSquared and that Grassley tried to leave an impression of wrongdoing where none existed.

Breeding like iRabbits
With the release of the iPhone 4S, Apple (NAS: AAPL) has jumped into third place from fifth in the hierarchy of cell-phone makers, according to the research firm IDC. The two leaders are Nokia (NYS: NOK) in first and then Samsung. LG and ZTE are in fourth and fifth place.

Speaking of iPhones, an analyst from UBS Investment Bank has predicted that Sprint may have activated almost 2 million iPhones in the fourth quarter. But, like what happened with AT&T and Verizon, higher iPhone sales also bring about narrow profit margins. This paradox is caused by the high subsidies the carriers must pay to entice subscribers into going for the two-year contracts.

May I see some ID, please?
One of the big selling points for the iPhone is that Apple keeps a very tight control over what apps can be sold and downloaded through its App Store. This careful vetting has seemed to keep malware out of the iOS ecosystem.

Google's Android Market has not vetted its offerings as thoroughly, and hence some nasty items have managed to slip through. Headlines like this one from Computerworld last March -- "Google yanks over 50 infected apps from Android Market" -- may have made the decision easy for some shoppers on whether to buy an Android phone or an iPhone.

But now Google has announced that it has something new guarding the front door: a malware-scanning device with the codename "Bouncer." This is good news, but I have to ask myself why this wasn't done in the first place. And I'm apparently not the only one. Chet Wisniewski, a security researcher for software security firm Sophos, told Computerworld: "Bouncer clearly makes sense. [But] most Android users would be surprised that they weren't already doing this."

About time, RIM execs
In last week's telecom roundup, I mentioned that Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said he was so psyched about RIM's future that he was going to buy $50 million worth of RIM stock on the open market. Well, it seems that Lazaridis has followed through on his pledge. He expressed his confidence that RIM could get back in the game by asking his interviewer from The Record, a Canadian newspaper: "Would I be buying $50 million worth of shares if I didn't?"

Well, that's good news because it addresses (even if it doesn't answer) the question I posed in an article from last October: "If RIM Execs Don't Want Its Stock, Who Does?"

Dat's da Ting
There's a new wireless provider in town -- that is, if one's town happens to be in the Sprint service area. The new provider is called Ting, and it's owned by the micro cap Tucows, a company known mainly as a Web domain purchase agent. The thing with Ting is its really flexible billing system. First off, it's month-to-month only. Next, it refunds the voice minutes, the texts, and the data that a customer doesn't use for the month. And there are more data-usage levels than the typical carrier offers.

The downside -- there is always one, of course -- is that because there are no long term contracts, there are no phone subsidies, so full-price is what one will have to pay for a phone. Still, the Ting is an interesting concept, and it could catch on.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
If you live in Russia, be on the lookout for the Seven-Pronged Vimplecom (NYS: VIP) !

"Seven-pronged Vimplecom merger given the all-clear," proclaims the TeleGeography website. This deal has been in the works since the giant telecom started acquiring seven regional companies beginning in 2008. Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service approved it in November, but it couldn't be completed until a shareholder meeting on Jan. 31.

Until next week, O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorDan Radovskyowns shares of AT&T. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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