management’s discussion and analysis
of financial condition and results of operations
Other Factors That May Affect Future Results
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 us.
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 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 previously adopted a series of orders that impose lesser regulatory requirements on broadband services and facilities than apply to narrowband or traditional telephone services. With respect to wireline facilities, the FCC determined that certain unbundling requirements that apply to narrowband facilities of local exchange carriers do not apply to broadband facilities such as fiber to the premise loops and packet switches. With respect to services, the FCC concluded that both wireline and wireless broadband Internet access services qualify as largely deregulated information services. Separately, certain of our wireline broadband services sold primarily to larger business customers were largely deregulated when our forbearance petition was deemed granted by operation of law. The latter relief has been upheld on appeal, but is subject to a continuing challenge before the FCC.
In December of 2010, the FCC adopted so-called ’net neutrality” rules governing broadband Internet access services that it describes as intended to preserve the openness of the Internet. These new rules, which took effect in November 2011 and are subject to a pending appeal, require providers of broadband Internet access to publicly disclose information relating to the performance and terms of its services. For ’fixed” services, the rules prohibit blocking lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. The rules also prohibit unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. For ’mobile” services, the rules prohibit blocking access to lawful websites or blocking applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services. The restrictions are subject to ’reasonable network management.” The rules also establish a complaint process, and state that the FCC will continue to monitor developments to determine whether to impose further regulations.
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, the Act generally requires companies that provide cable service over a cable system to obtain a local cable franchise, and the FCC has adopted rules that interpret and implement this requirement.
Interstate Access Charges and Intercarrier Compensation
In 2011, the FCC issued a broad order changing the framework for the interstate and intrastate switched access per-minute rates that carriers charge each other for the exchange of voice traffic. The new rules will gradually reduce to zero the rates that Verizon pays to other carriers and the rates that Verizon charges other carriers. This order also established a per-minute intercarrier compensation rate applicable to the exchange of Voice over IP traffic regardless of whether such traffic is intrastate or interstate. This order is subject to certain pending reconsideration petitions and appeals.
The FCC’s current rules for special access services 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 determine whether and how these rules should be modified.
The FCC has adopted a body of rules implementing the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, including provisions to support rural and non-rural high-cost areas, low income subscribers, schools and libraries and rural health care. The FCC’s rules require telecommunications companies including Verizon to pay into the Universal Service Fund (USF), which then makes distributions in support of the programs. Under the broad order issued by the FCC in 2011, the focus of the USF will be gradually shifted from support of voice services to support of broadband services. The FCC is also currently considering other changes to the rules governing contributions to the fund. Any change in the current rules could result in a change in the contribution that Verizon and others must make and that would have to be collected from customers, or in the amounts that these providers receive from the USF.
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 FCC has adopted rules defining the network elements that must be made available, including criteria for determining whether high-capacity loops, transport or dark fiber transport must be unbundled in individual wire centers. 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 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’ 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 Verizon Wireless holds, and the sizes of the geographic areas it is 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’ 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’ 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’ 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, and can result in conditions on the purchaser that can impact its costs and business plans. 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, Verizon Wireless participated in the FCC’s auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, and was the high bidder on 109 licenses in the 700 MHz band. The FCC granted all of those licenses to Verizon Wireless on November 26, 2008.
The FCC also adopted service rules that will impose costs on licensees that acquire the 700 MHz band spectrum either through auction or by purchasing such spectrum from other companies. These rules include minimum coverage mandates by specific dates during the license terms, and, for approximately one-third of the spectrum, known as the ’C Block,” ’open access” requirements, which generally require licensees of that spectrum to allow customers to use devices and applications of their choice on the LTE network we are deploying on that spectrum, including those obtained from sources other than us or our distributors or dealers, subject to certain technical limitations established by us. Verizon Wireless holds the C Block 700 MHz licenses covering the entire United States. In adopting its ’net neutrality” rules discussed above, the FCC stated that the new rules operate independently from the ’open access” requirements that continue to apply to the C Block licensees.
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’ 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 matters. Our competitive local exchange carrier and long distance operations are lightly regulated the same as other similarly situated carriers. Our incumbent local exchange operations (California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia) are subject to various levels of pricing flexibility, deregulation, detariffing, and service quality standards. None of the states are subject to earnings 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 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, 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 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, but does not prohibit 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, the use of handsets while driving, reporting requirements for system outages and the availability of broadband wireless services. Wireless tower and antenna facilities are also subject to state and local zoning and land use regulation, and securing approvals for new or modified tower or antenna sites is often a lengthy and expensive process.
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’ 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.
During 2003, under a government-approved plan, remediation commenced at the site of a former Sylvania facility in Hicksville, New York that processed nuclear fuel rods in the 1950s and 1960s. Remediation beyond original expectations proved to be necessary and a reassessment of the anticipated remediation costs was conducted. A reassessment of costs related to remediation efforts at several other former facilities was also undertaken. In September 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) accepted the Hicksville site into the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. This may result in the ACE performing some or all of the remediation effort for the Hicksville site with a corresponding decrease in costs to Verizon. To the extent that the ACE assumes responsibility for remedial work at the Hicksville site, an adjustment to a reserve previously established for the remediation may be made. Adjustments to the reserve may also be made based upon actual conditions discovered during the remediation at this or any other site requiring remediation.