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The Threat to Massachusetts' High-Speed Internet Access

April 9, 2012

BOSTON - Consumer groups in Massachusetts and around the country say a spectrum deal between Verizon and a group of cable companies known as SpectrumCo - and one with Cox Communications - will grab a large share of the wireless spectrum and lead to less competition and higher prices. The plan is currently being reviewed by the FCC.

Telecommunications unions call the consolidation "job-killing."

Parul Desai of the Consumers Union says that, because of a joint marketing arrangement involved in the deal, land-line customers will be adversely affected, too.

"Any consumer who's going to want to rely on high-speed access, whether it's for gaming, music, video, even telehealth, should be concerned that they'll only have one choice in their market when it comes to high-speed broadband Internet access."

Verizon says it is "critical" that the cable spectrum be used for mobile services. The cities of Syracuse and Albany are on record as opposing the plan, which some call a spectrum grab. The cities say it will widen the digital divide between well-connected suburbs and under-served inner cities and rural areas.

Edyael Casaperalta of the Center for Rural Strategies says a duopoly would be created, with Verizon and AT&T dominating the field. Massachusetts residents living outside the state's urban areas may be among the most affected.

"The unification of these two companies would either limit or even eliminate some options for rural consumers in Massachusetts."

Casaperalta says smaller companies that provide wireless services in less-populated areas will likely get squeezed out of the marketplace if the Verizon spectrum deal is approved.

"Rural providers in Massachusetts also need access to spectrum to be able to provide the services in rural communities where typically the larger companies don't want to provide it."

Verizon says with smartphone traffic predicted to be more than 25 times higher in 2015 than it is today, it needs to acquire the spectrum, and denies it will stifle competition.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA