WASHINGTON Communications regulators requested on Thursday more information about the marketing agreements proposed in multibillion dollar airwaves deals between Verizon Wireless and several cable operators.
The Federal Communications Commission decision to seek the information follows calls from competitors and public interest groups for a thorough review of any anticompetitive effects.
Some competitors have accused Verizon Wireless of trying to keep smaller wireless companies from getting the airwaves, while other opponents have argued the deals would create allies out of former rivals, to the detriment of consumers.
Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. carrier, announced plans on December 2 to pay Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC.N) $3.6 billion in a spectrum and marketing deal.
The joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) reached a similar deal with privately held cable operator Cox Communications, worth $315 million, which was announced in mid-December.
The cable operators would be allowed to resell Verizon's mobile service as part of the deals.
The FCC said in announcing its request for the marketing information that it would extend the filing deadline to March 26 from March 12 to allow all parties to review and comment on the new material.
"The Commission staff has concluded that portions of the commercial agreements are inseparable from the proposed license transfer and related wireless competition issues," an FCC spokesman said.
Verizon Wireless has said it needs more spectrum to support increased consumer demand for videos and other services that soak up bandwidth.
"We believe getting previously unused spectrum into the hands of consumers is strongly in the public interest," Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said in a statement.
The wireless carrier said it would respond completely and rapidly to questions from regulators, and still anticipated a positive conclusion.
A Comcast spokeswoman said the company would continue to cooperate with the FCC's review, and believed that "the commercial agreements provide substantial consumer benefits without any reduction in competition."
Opponents of the spectrum buy and joint venture had said the transactions could not be properly reviewed without access to portions of the marketing agreements.
Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTEGn.DE) T-Mobile criticized the deals as a defensive move to prevent smaller competitors from getting the airwaves in a letter sent to the FCC last month.
The FCC is reviewing whether the two deals are in the public's interest, while the U.S. Justice Department is probing the deal for any antitrust concerns.
Lawmakers are also scrutinizing the deals, although they have no official role in the review.
(Reporting By Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)