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The Deal: FCC Clears Verizon Wireless Buyout

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday made its first use of streamlined procedures for reviewing deals that involve foreign stakes in U.S. telecom companies by approving Verizon Communications'  (VZ - Get Report) $130 billion cash and stock acquisition of Vodafone's (VOD) stake in Verizon Wireless.

The transaction was announced Sept. 2. Verizon is acquiring the U.S. assets of the U.K.'s Vodafone Group plc, consisting primarily of a 45% stake in Verizon Wireless.

Randal Milch, executive vice president of public policy and general counsel of Verizon, thanked the FCC for acting quickly. He said providing Verizon with 100% ownership of Verizon Wireless will provide a "boost to one of the most important sectors of the U.S. economy."

As for the streamlined foreign-ownership review procedures that the FCC adopted in April he said, "We are grateful to the commission for its commitment to process reforms that benefit wireless carriers and the customers we serve."

The FCC's changes were aimed at reducing the number of petitions for approval that are filed with the commission and the time required to review those that still must be submitted.

The changes require petitioners to identify only those foreign investors that would hold equity and/or voting interests of greater than 5%, and in some cases only those greater than 10%. Petitioners also are allowed to request specific approval for any foreign investor to increase an equity stake and/or voting interest at some future time, including to 100%.

A telecom licensee's subsidiaries and affiliates are permitted to rely on the licensee's previous foreign ownership ruling rather than having to file a new petition, as long as the foreign ownership of the licensee and the subsidiary or affiliate are in compliance with the terms of the licensee's ruling and the commission's rules.

The FCC also eliminated the practice of issuing service- and geographic-specific rulings, and instead permits a licensee with a foreign ownership ruling to add new services and new geographic service areas without filing a new petition for approval.

Regarding the Vodafone deal, FCC approval was sought as a contingency in case post-closing foreign ownership of Verizon Communications exceeds 25%.

The FCC's streamlining is part of a broader effort to attract more foreign capital into the U.S. telecom and media sectors. On Nov. 14, the commission relaxed restrictions on foreign ownership of TV and radio stations by removing a de facto cap that limited foreign investment in broadcast licensees to 25%.

When the telecom streamlining was carried out in April, the commission estimated the changes would result in a 70% reduction in the number of petitions for declaratory ruling filed with the commission annually and would also "reduce dramatically" the number of hours that applicants and licensees spend preparing the required filings.

By Bill McConnell In Washington

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