Bloomberg News

Republicans Say They Will Try to Limit FCC’s Merger Demands

November 04, 2011

(Updates with FCC comment in last paragraph.)

Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Republican lawmakers said they would introduce legislation to limit concessions that the Federal Communications Commission may impose on merging companies.

The bill, an attempt to revamp several agency procedures, would require that merger conditions be specific to the deal under consideration, said Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the FCC, today at a Washington news conference.

It is “troubling” that the agency obtains “side voluntary quote unquote” conditions from merging companies, Walden said. He gave as an example Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp.’s agreements with the Democratic-majority FCC as it sought approval for the purchase of NBC Universal.

Comcast in a Jan. 17 letter to the agency offered “voluntary agreements” to not interfere unfairly with subscribers’ Internet traffic, and it received approval for the purchase the next day.

Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, in a March speech delivered two months before she announced her departure from the agency to work for Comcast, called for “common sense limits on merger conditions,” according to a copy of her speech on the agency’s website. “These conditions have become a cost of doing business with the agency,” Baker said. She said the Comcast merger informed her views.

Measures Planned

Walden, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said the measure would be reviewed by his panel at a Nov. 16 hearing. He appeared today with Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican and member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the FCC. The lawmakers said they intended to introduce identical measures.

The bills would require the agency to identify a market failure, consumer harm or barrier to investment before adopting “economically significant” rules, Heller and Walden said in a statement. The FCC would need to publish orders before voting on them, according to the statement.

The FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski has reduced backlogs, and it increasingly publishes the text of proposed rules before voting, Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, said in an e- mail.

--Editors: Michael Shepard, Steve Walsh

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at mshepard7@bloomberg.net


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