Bloomberg News

House Panel Advances Bill to Curb FCC’s Power in Merger Reviews

November 21, 2011

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A House panel voted to advance a Republican-sponsored bill to limit concessions the Federal Communications Commission can wrest from companies seeking approvals to merge.

The 14-9 vote by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology sends the bill for more House votes. No action has been scheduled for a version introduced in the Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who leads the panel, would require the FCC to identify a harm to be remedied before adopting rules, publish regulations before voting, set and adhere to deadlines and respond to queries from companies and the public.

Provisions in the bill are based on principles contained in President Barack Obama’s Jan. 18 order to review U.S. regulations and remove or overhaul those that stifle economic growth, subcommittee Republicans said in a memorandum posted on the panel’s website before the hearing.

The bill may “create uncertainty and confusion for the FCC” by upending established practice, subcommittee Democrats said in a memo prepared before the hearing. The bill “severely undermines the commission’s ability to develop transaction conditions consistent with the public interest,” according to the Democrats’ memo.

Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company, promised to follow Internet-traffic rules set by the FCC regardless of the outcome of a court challenge as it sought agency approval to buy NBC Universal.

AT&T, T-Mobile

The FCC made that pledge a requirement as it approved the deal on Jan. 18, and it did the same with arrangements Philadelphia-based Comcast said it had struck voluntarily with independent film makers, and Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American groups.

AT&T Inc. is seeking FCC approval to buy T-Mobile USA Inc., and has said it may complete the $39 billion transaction announced March 20 in the first half of next year.

AT&T has pledged not reduce call-center jobs, and to offer replacement jobs to T-Mobile’s non-management workers whose positions are eliminated.

AT&T has made specific job commitments and would go along with having those be a condition of approval, Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, said in a Nov. 2 interview.

The Justice Department has sued to block the T-Mobile purchase as anti-competitive, and Dallas-based AT&T is fighting in court to preserve the deal. The transaction would eliminate one of four national U.S. wireless carriers.

--Editors: Steve Walsh, Michael Shepard

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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