Management’s Discussion and Analysis
of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
OTHER FACTORS THAT MAY AFFECT FUTURE RESULTS (2 OF 2)
Regulatory and Competitive Trends
Competition and Regulation
Technological, regulatory and market changes have provided Verizon both new opportunities and challenges. These changes have allowed Verizon to offer new types of services in an increasingly competitive market. At the same time, they have allowed other service providers to broaden the scope of their own competitive offerings. Current and potential competitors for network services include other telephone companies, cable companies, wireless service providers, foreign telecommunications providers, satellite providers, electric utilities, Internet service providers, providers of VoIP services, and other companies that offer network services using a variety of technologies. Many of these companies have a strong market presence, brand recognition and existing customer relationships, all of which contribute to intensifying competition and may affect our future revenue growth. Many of our competitors also remain subject to fewer regulatory constraints than Verizon.
We are unable to predict definitively the impact that the ongoing changes in the telecommunications industry will ultimately have on our business, results of operations or financial condition. The financial impact will depend on several factors, including the timing, extent and success of competition in our markets, the timing and outcome of various regulatory proceedings and any appeals, and the timing, extent and success of our pursuit of new opportunities.
The FCC has jurisdiction over our interstate telecommunications services and other matters for which the FCC has jurisdiction under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Communications Act). The Communications Act generally provides that we may not charge unjust or unreasonable rates, or engage in unreasonable discrimination when we are providing services as a common carrier, and regulates some of the rates, terms and conditions under which we provide certain services. The FCC also has adopted regulations governing various aspects of our business including: (i) use and disclosure of customer proprietary network information; (ii) telemarketing; (iii) assignment of telephone numbers to customers; (iv) provision to law enforcement agencies of the capability to obtain call identifying information and call content information from calls pursuant to lawful process; (v) accessibility of services and equipment to individuals with disabilities if readily achievable; (vi) interconnection with the networks of other carriers; and (vii) customers’ ability to keep (or “port”) their telephone numbers when switching to another carrier. In addition, we pay various fees to support other FCC programs, such as the universal service program discussed below. Changes to these mandates, or the adoption of additional mandates, could require us to make changes to our operations or otherwise increase our costs of compliance.
The FCC has adopted a series of orders that recognize the competitive nature of the broadband market and impose lesser regulatory requirements on broadband services and facilities than apply to narrowband or traditional telephone services. With respect to facilities, the FCC has determined that certain unbundling requirements that apply to narrowband facilities do not apply to broadband facilities such as fiber to the premise loops and packet switches. With respect to services, the FCC has concluded that broadband Internet access services offered by telephone companies and their affiliates qualify as largely deregulated information services. The same order also concluded that telephone companies may offer the underlying broadband transmission services that are used as an input to Internet access services through private carriage arrangements on negotiated commercial terms. The order was upheld on appeal. In addition, a Verizon petition asking the FCC to forbear from applying common carrier regulation to certain broadband services sold primarily to larger business customers when those services are not used for Internet access was deemed granted by operation of law when the FCC did not deny the petition by the statutory deadline. The relief has been upheld on appeal, but is subject to a continuing challenge before the FCC.
The FCC has a body of rules that apply to cable operators under Title VI of the Communications Act of 1934, and these rules also generally apply to telephone companies that provide cable services over their networks. In addition, companies that provide cable service over a cable system generally must obtain a local cable franchise. The FCC has interpreted the Cable Act to limit the franchise fees and other requirements that local franchise authorities may impose on cable operators and has found that some prior practices of franchise authorities constituted an unreasonable refusal to award a competitive local franchise under the requirements of federal law. This order has been upheld on appeal.
Interstate Access Charges and Intercarrier Compensation
The current framework for interstate access rates was established in the Coalition for Affordable Local and Long Distance Services (CALLS) plan which the FCC adopted on May 31, 2000. The CALLS plan has three main components. First, it establishes portable interstate access universal service support of $650 million for the industry that replaces implicit support previously embedded in interstate access charges. Second, the plan simplifies the patchwork of common line charges into one subscriber line charge (SLC) and provides for de-averaging of the SLC by zones and class of customers. Third, the plan set into place a mechanism to transition to a set target of $.0055 per minute for switched access services. Once that target rate is reached, local exchange carriers are no longer required to make further annual price cap reductions to their switched access prices. As a result of tariff adjustments which became effective in July 2003, virtually all of our switched access lines reached the $.0055 benchmark.
The FCC currently is conducting a broad rulemaking proceeding to consider new rules governing intercarrier compensation including, but not limited to, access charges, compensation for Internet traffic and reciprocal compensation for local traffic. The FCC has sought comments about intercarrier compensation in general and requested input on a number of specific reform proposals. On November 5, 2008, the FCC issued an order on remand relating to intercarrier compensation for dial-up Internet-bound traffic. In April 2001, the FCC had found that this traffic is not subject to reciprocal compensation under Section 251(b)(5) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Instead, in that order, the FCC established federal rates per minute for this traffic that declined from $.0015 to $.0007 over a three-year period, and required incumbent local exchange carriers to offer to both bill and pay reciprocal compensation for local traffic at the same rate as they are required to pay on Internet-bound traffic. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected part of the FCC’s rationale, but declined to vacate the order while it is on remand. On July 8, 2008, the D.C. Circuit issued an order requiring the FCC to issue its order on remand by November 5, 2008. The FCC’s November 2008 order provided a new rationale to support the compensation regime the FCC had announced in April 2001. The November 2008 order is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Disputes also remain pending in a number of forums relating to the appropriate compensation for Internet-bound traffic during previous periods under the terms of our interconnection agreements with other carriers.
The FCC is also conducting a rulemaking proceeding to address the regulation of services that use Internet protocol. The issues raised in the rulemaking as well as in several petitions currently pending before the FCC include whether, and under what circumstances, access charges should apply to voice or other Internet protocol services and the scope of federal and state commission authority over these services. The FCC previously has held that one provider’s peer-to-peer Internet protocol service that does not use the public switched network is an interstate information service and is not subject to access charges, while a service that utilizes Internet protocol for only one intermediate part of a call’s transmission is a telecommunications service that is subject to access charges. The FCC also declared the services offered by one provider of a voice over Internet protocol service to be jurisdictionally interstate and stated that its conclusion would apply to other services with similar characteristics. This order was affirmed on appeal.
The FCC also has adopted rules for special access services that provide for pricing flexibility and ultimately the removal of services from price regulation when prescribed competitive thresholds are met. More than half of special access revenues are now removed from price regulation. The FCC currently has a rulemaking proceeding underway to update the public record concerning its pricing flexibility rules and to determine whether any changes to those rules are warranted.
The FCC also has a body of rules implementing the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, including rules governing support to rural and non-rural high-cost areas, support for low income subscribers and support for schools, libraries and rural health care. The FCC’s current rules for support to high-cost areas served by larger “non-rural” local telephone companies were previously remanded by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which had found that the FCC had not adequately justified these rules. The FCC has initiated a rulemaking proceeding in response to the court’s remand, but its rules remain in effect pending the results of the rulemaking. On April 29, 2008, the FCC adopted a cap on the amount of support competitive carriers (including all wireless carriers) may receive. That cap is the subject of a pending appeal. The FCC is considering additional changes to the high-cost portion of the universal service fund but has not to date taken industry-wide action. However, in its November 4, 2008 order approving Verizon Wireless’s acquisition of Alltel, the FCC required Verizon Wireless to phase out the high-cost support the merged company receives from the universal service fund by 20 percent during the first year following completion of the acquisition and by an additional 20 percent for each of the following three years, after which no support will be provided. In addition, the FCC is considering other changes to the rules governing contributions to, and disbursements from, the fund. Any change in the current rules could result in a change in the contribution that local telephone companies, wireless carriers or others must make and that would have to be collected from customers, or in the amounts that these providers receive from the fund.
Unbundling of Network Elements
Under Section 251 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, incumbent local exchange carriers are required to provide competing carriers with access to components of their network on an unbundled basis, known as UNEs, where certain statutory standards are satisfied. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also adopted a cost-based pricing standard for these UNEs, which the FCC interpreted as allowing it to impose a pricing standard known as “total element long run incremental cost” or “TELRIC.” The FCC’s rules defining the unbundled network elements that must be made available at TELRIC prices have been overturned on multiple occasions by the courts. In its most recent order issued in response to these court decisions, the FCC eliminated the requirement to unbundle mass market local switching on a nationwide basis, and established criteria for determining whether high-capacity loops, transport or dark fiber transport must be unbundled in individual wire centers. The FCC also eliminated the obligation to provide dark fiber loops and found that there is no obligation to provide UNEs exclusively for wireless or long distance service. The decision was upheld on appeal.
As noted above, the FCC has concluded that the requirement under Section 251 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to provide unbundled network elements at TELRIC prices generally does not apply with respect to broadband facilities, such as fiber to the premises loops, the packet-switched capabilities of hybrid loops and packet switching. The FCC also has held that any separate unbundling obligations that may be imposed by Section 271 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 do not apply to these same facilities. Those decisions were upheld on appeal.
The FCC regulates the licensing, construction, operation, acquisition and transfer of wireless communications systems, including the systems that Verizon Wireless operates, pursuant to the Communications Act, other legislation, and the FCC’s rules. The FCC and Congress continuously consider changes to these laws and rules. Adoption of new laws or rules may raise the cost of providing service or require modification of Verizon Wireless’s business plans or operations.
To use the radio frequency spectrum, wireless communications systems must be licensed by the FCC to operate the wireless network and mobile devices in assigned spectrum segments. Verizon Wireless holds FCC licenses to operate in several different radio services, including the cellular radiotelephone service, personal communications service, wireless communications service, and point-to-point radio service. The technical and service rules, the specific radio frequencies and amounts of spectrum we hold, and the sizes of the geographic areas we are authorized to operate in, vary for each of these services. However, all of the licenses Verizon Wireless holds allow it to use spectrum to provide a wide range of mobile and fixed communications services, including both voice and data services, and Verizon Wireless operates a seamless network that utilizes those licenses to provide services to customers. Because the FCC issues licenses for only a fixed time, generally 10 years, Verizon Wireless must periodically seek renewal of those licenses. Although the FCC has routinely renewed all of Verizon Wireless’s licenses that have come up for renewal to date, challenges could be brought against the licenses in the future. If a wireless license were revoked or not renewed upon expiration, Verizon Wireless would not be permitted to provide services on the licensed spectrum in the area covered by that license.
The FCC has also imposed specific mandates on carriers that operate wireless communications systems, which increase Verizon Wireless’s costs. These mandates include requirements that Verizon Wireless: (i) meet specific construction and geographic coverage requirements during the license term; (ii) meet technical operating standards that, among other things, limit the radio frequency radiation from mobile devices and antennas; (iii) deploy “Enhanced 911” wireless services that provide the wireless caller’s number, location and other information to a state or local public safety agency that handles 911 calls; (iv) provide roaming services to other wireless service providers; and (v) comply with regulations for the construction of transmitters and towers that, among other things, restrict siting of towers in environmentally sensitive locations and in places where the towers would affect a site listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Changes to these mandates could require Verizon Wireless to make changes to operations or increase its costs of compliance. In its November 4, 2008 order approving Verizon Wireless’s acquisition of Alltel, the FCC adopted conditions that impose additional requirements on Verizon Wireless in its provision of Enhanced 911 services and roaming services.
The Communications Act imposes restrictions on foreign ownership of U.S. wireless systems. The FCC has approved the interest that Vodafone Group Plc holds, through various of its subsidiaries, in Verizon Wireless. The FCC may need to approve any increase in Vodafone’s interest or the acquisition of an ownership interest by other foreign entities. In addition, as part of the FCC’s approval of Vodafone’s ownership interest, Verizon Wireless, Verizon and Vodafone entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation which imposes national security and law enforcement-related obligations on the ways in which Verizon Wireless stores information and otherwise conducts its business.
Verizon Wireless anticipates that it will need additional spectrum to meet future demand. It can meet spectrum needs by purchasing licenses or leasing spectrum from other licensees, or by acquiring new spectrum licenses from the FCC. Under the Communications Act, before Verizon Wireless can acquire a license from another licensee in order to expand its coverage or its spectrum capacity in a particular area, it must file an application with the FCC, and the FCC can grant the application only after a period for public notice and comment. This review process can delay acquisition of spectrum needed to expand services. The Communications Act also requires the FCC to award new licenses for most commercial wireless services through a competitive bidding process in which spectrum is awarded to bidders in an auction. Verizon Wireless has participated in spectrum auctions to acquire licenses for radio spectrum in various bands. Most recently, it participated in the FCC’s auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. This spectrum is currently used for UHF television operations. By law those operations were to have ceased no later than February 17, 2009. However, a new law has been enacted that extends this date until June 12, 2009. We do not believe that this extension will have a material adverse effect on our testing of LTE technology or our planned deployment of a 4G wireless broadband network using LTE.
On November 26, 2008, the FCC granted Verizon Wireless 109 licenses in this band for which it was the winning bidder. The FCC also adopted service rules that will impose costs on licensees that acquire the 700 MHz band spectrum, including minimum coverage mandates by specific dates during the license terms, and, for approximately one-third of the spectrum, “open access” requirements, which generally require licensees of that spectrum to allow customers to use devices and applications of their choice, subject to certain limits. Seven of the licenses that Verizon Wireless acquired in the 700 MHz auction, which in the aggregate cover the United States except for Alaska, are subject to these requirements. The open access requirements are the subject of a pending appeal in which Verizon Wireless has intervened. The timing of future auctions may not match Verizon Wireless’s needs, and the company may not be able to secure the spectrum in the amounts and/or in the markets it seeks through any future auction.
The FCC is also conducting several proceedings to explore making additional spectrum available for licensed and/or unlicensed use. These proceedings could increase radio interference to Verizon Wireless’s operations from other spectrum users and could impact the ways in which it uses spectrum, the capacity of that spectrum to carry traffic, and the value of that spectrum.
State Regulation and Local Approvals
State public utility commissions regulate our telephone operations with respect to certain telecommunications intrastate rates and services and other matters. Our competitive local exchange carrier and long distance operations are generally classified as nondominant and lightly regulated the same as other similarly situated carriers. Our incumbent local exchange operations are generally classified as dominant. These latter operations predominantly are subject to alternative forms of regulation (AFORs) in the various states, although they remain subject to rate of return regulation in a few states. Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Washington are rate of return regulated with various levels of pricing flexibility for competitive services. California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin are under AFORs with various levels of pricing flexibility, detariffing, and service quality standards. None of the AFORs include earnings regulation. In Idaho, Verizon has made the election under a statutory amendment into a deregulatory regime that phases out all price regulation.
Companies that provide cable service over a cable system are typically subject to state and/or local cable television rules and regulations. As noted above, cable operators generally must obtain a local cable franchise from each local unit of government prior to providing cable service in that local area. Some states have recently enacted legislation that enables cable operators to apply for, and obtain, a single cable franchise at the state, rather than local, level. To date, Verizon has applied for and received state-issued franchises in California, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey, Texas and the unincorporated areas of Delaware. We also have obtained authorization from the state commission in Rhode Island to provide cable service in certain areas in that state, have obtained required state commission approvals for our local franchises in New York, and will need to obtain additional state commission approvals in these states to provide cable service in additional areas. Virginia law provides us the option of entering a given franchise area using state standards if local franchise negotiations are unsuccessful.
The rapid growth of the wireless industry has led to an increase in efforts by some state legislatures and state public utility commissions to regulate the industry in ways that may impose additional costs on Verizon Wireless. The Communications Act generally preempts regulation by state and local governments of the entry of, or the rates charged by, wireless carriers. Although a state may petition the FCC to allow it to impose rate regulation, no state has done so. In addition, the Communications Act does not prohibit the states from regulating the other “terms and conditions” of wireless service. While numerous state commissions do not currently have jurisdiction over wireless services, state legislatures may decide to grant them such jurisdiction, and those commissions that already have authority to impose regulations on wireless carriers may adopt new rules.
State efforts to regulate wireless services have included proposals to regulate customer billing, termination of service, trial periods for service, advertising, network outages, the use of handsets while driving, and reporting requirements for system outages and the availability of broadband wireless services. Over the past several years, only a few states have imposed regulation in one or more of these areas, and in 2006 a federal appellate court struck down one such state statute, but Verizon Wireless expects these efforts to continue. Some states also impose their own universal service support regimes on wireless and other telecommunications carriers, and other states are considering whether to create such regimes.
Verizon Wireless (as well as AT&T and Sprint-Nextel) is a party to an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) with 33 State Attorneys General. The AVC, which generally reflected Verizon Wireless’s practices at the time it was entered into in July 2004, obligates the company to disclose certain rates and terms during a sales transaction, to provide maps depicting coverage, and to comply with various requirements regarding advertising, billing, and other practices.
At the state and local level, wireless facilities are subject to zoning and land use regulation. Under the Communications Act, neither state nor local governments may categorically prohibit the construction of wireless facilities in any community or take actions, such as indefinite moratoria, which have the effect of prohibiting service. Nonetheless, securing state and local government approvals for new tower sites has been and is likely to continue to be a difficult, lengthy and expensive process. Finally, state and local governments continue to impose new or higher fees and taxes on wireless carriers.