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Menino protests proposed Comcast, Verizon deal

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is urging the Federal Communications Commission to deny a proposal to allow Verizon Wireless Inc. and Comcast Corp. to jointly market each other’s products or to require that the Verizon FiOS network be brought to Boston and other communities.

According to the plan before the FCC, Verizon Wireless would pay $3.9 billion to buy large segments of the wireless spectrum from Comcast - the largest cable provider in Greater Boston - Time Warner Cable Inc., and Bright House Networks. Verizon, Comcast, and the other providers would be able to offer their customers “quadruple play’’ packages that would include cable TV, Internet access, and online and wireless phone service on one bill.

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In comments filed with the FCC, Menino, who wants to bring FiOS service to Boston to increase cable competition, wrote that the agreement would “create significant disincentives for Verizon to make future investments in its FiOS fiber network which will harm consumers, particularly in the Boston area which lacks robust competition and investment in wireline broadband services.’’

In 2010, Verizon halted its $23 billion nationwide expansion of the FiOS network. By then, FiOS service had become widely available in suburban communities across Eastern Massachusetts, but not in Boston. Customers in Boston are served Comcast and RCN, which operates in a small portion of the city, as well as satellite providers.

Phil Santoro, a spokesman for Verizon, disputed the claim that the proposed deal is anticompetitive, saying that it would increase capacity and better serve customers with devices that work on the company’s high speed 4G LTE cellular network. “This is particularly so for consumers in communities who would benefit from wireless high-speed broadband connectivity,’’ Santoro wrote in an e-mail.

A Comcast spokesman declined to comment, referring to a blog post by company vice president David L. Cohen. “Neither the License Assignment nor the Commercial Agreements reduce or harm competition in any product or geographic market,’’ Cohen wrote.

Menino was joined in opposing the deal by a cluster of community groups and the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents more than 700,000 workers in telecommunications and news media, which is concerned that the proposed deal would deter expansion of the FiOS network. Union spokesman Chuck Porcari said that the proposed deal affects a number of other cities in the same way. “We call it the doughnut hole, because many other cities, like Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany, have the same situation as Boston,’’ Porcari said. “Verizon FiOS is available in the suburbs, but not in the city.’’

Menino and community groups are also worried that without significant competition to Comcast, city residents will be subject to higher prices and lesser service. Two groups, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice and Union of Minority Neighborhoods, submitted a joint comment opposing the proposed deal to the FCC. “Verizon’s decision to bypass Boston in favor of surrounding suburban communities disproportionately affects minority and lower-income neighborhoods, small businesses, and seniors,’’ Menino said in his comments to the FCC. “The City is concerned that these transactions are designed to ensure that Verizon and Comcast collaborate and never compete in Boston, thereby effectively depriving our communities, citizens, small businesses, schools, hospitals, and educational facilities the benefits of video and broadband competition that is available in most of eastern Massachusetts, surrounding suburbs, and in other parts of the country.’’

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.
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