Public interest and civil rights entities have asked the FCC to impose conditions on Verizon Communications, Inc.’s, proposed acquisition of TracFone Wireless, Inc., to protect Lifeline customers.
"The transaction presents potential public interest harms to Lifeline subscribers and competition in the wireless market, impacting the ability of low-income communities to access critical communications services," two dozen entities said in an ex parte filing yesterday in GN docket 21-112. "For these reasons, the undersigned groups strongly urge the Commission, should this merger be approved, to impose strict enforceable conditions on the transaction that will protect Lifeline customers and preserve the wireless reseller marketplace. At a minimum, the Commission must issue a Request for Information to obtain information sufficient to make the necessary public interest determinations and provide answers to the questions that have been raised in the record."
"Verizon has not made any concrete commitments to these consumers in the proceeding thus far," the entities complained. "In its initial application and subsequent filings, the Applicants assert that Verizon will continue offering Lifeline supported services through TracFone where it offers service over Verizon’s network. Outside of these assertions, Verizon has failed to provide any detailed information for how it plans to meaningfully participate in the Lifeline program post-transaction. For example, Verizon is silent on what type of wireless coverage it will provide TracFone’s Lifeline customers and what the timeline would be for migrating subscribers who are currently receiving service on a non-Verizon network. Given the Applicants’ lack of detail combined with Verizon’s current insubstantial participation in Lifeline, TracFone’s Lifeline subscribers could experience a substantial reduction or loss of service if the transaction were approved as currently presented. This is unacceptable, and both the Commission and Verizon must take significant steps to protect TracFone’s Lifeline subscribers should this merger be approved."
The submission added, "The Applicants’ transaction also has the potential to harm competition in the wireless market, resulting in higher prices and fewer choices for service, particularly for low-income consumers. Wireless consumers, particularly those in low-income communities, including those in the Lifeline program, rely on wireless resellers for lower prices, and greater product variety to meet their connectivity needs. These consumers are disproportionately people of color and fall into lower income brackets, while Verizon’s consumers are overwhelmingly white and make more than $25,000 a year. Fewer independent resellers in the wireless market means fewer options for consumers and would allow companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to raise prices on marginalized communities with little recourse, despite Applicants’ claims. Combining the largest independent wireless reseller with the largest facilities-based provider would give post-transaction Verizon incentives to engage in anti-competitive practices."
The filing added, "Given the poor track record of prior FCC administrations’ enforcement of conditions and the ability of companies to find loopholes around them, this transaction must be accompanied by strict enforceable conditions should the application be granted. The undersigned groups urge the Commission not to approve the transaction absent binding conditions, in part because of the lack of detailed plans for a long-term, robust investment in quality Lifeline services to protect Lifeline customers and wireless consumers. In addition, we urge the Commission to issue a Request for Information and seek answers to the questions in the proceeding that go to the heart of whether this transaction is in the public interest, consistent with other requests in the transaction record."
The following entities signed onto the filing: Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, United Church of Christ Office of Communications, Access Humboldt, Access Now, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Center for Accessible Technology, Center for Rural Strategies, Free Press, Libraries Without Borders, MediaJustice, National Consumer Law Center, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, OCA—Asian Pacific American Advocates, OpenMedia, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the Greenlining Institute, and the Utility Reform Network (TURN).
Separately, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also asked the Commission in a filing to impose conditions that protect Lifeline customers. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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