Verizon-Cable Deal Verging on Approval?

Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon (NYS: VZ) and Vodafone (NYS: VOD) , may be on the cusp of finally getting regulatory approval of the blockbuster deals it made with several cable companies late last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal cited unnamed sources that say Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will begin the approval process this week. The Department of Justice is also about to drop its antitrust-related objection to the deals, according to the sources.

One of those deals had Verizon paying $3.6 billion to SpectrumCo, a consortium of cable companies that includes Comcast (NAS: CMCSA) , Time Warner Cable (NYS: TWC) , and Bright House Networks, for a cache of unused wireless spectrum. The other deal was made with Cox Communications for $300 million worth of spectrum.

The component of the SpectrumCo deal that had been holding up approval was its provision for cross-marketing of Verizon's services with those of the cable companies. Critics of the arrangement -- which have included consumer groups, other telecoms, and the chairman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee -- have called the cross-marketing components nothing more than non-compete clauses. For the deals to go through, Verizon and the cable companies have had to agree not to cross-market their products where they compete head-to-head for Internet, TV, and phone customers.

One of the sticking points for the DOJ was the potential for Verizon and Comcast to continue their cooperation indefinitely, or, as Comcast Cable President Neil Smit has said, into "perpetuity." But it seems the new definition for perpetuity is five years: The two companies have now agreed to limit the term of their cross-marketing ventures to that length of time, after which they will have to reapply for approval.

Last week Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) CEO Dan Hesse railed against the growing duopoly power of Verizon and AT&T. If the deals are approved with only minimal throttling of their potentially anticompetitive tenets, then Sprint's voice, already one of the most critical of the Verizon-cable deals, will probably become a lot shriller.

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