US House votes to limit the FCC’s ability to control communications mergers

US House votes to limit the FCC’s ability to control communications mergers

One half of the US Congress voted last night to limit the ability of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to control mergers of communications companies. The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform act passed with a vote of 274-174.

This matters for the US technology community as it takes the temperature of our elected leaders towards mergers, and their oversight. Given that stunningly large combinations of firms have been occurring lately, think Google-Motorola, and the failed AT&T-T-Mobile deal, what the rules are is quite important.

At least in the House, an FCC that acts along the lines that it has in the past is anathema. Republicans in the House, according to The Hill, praised the bill as bringing equal transparency to the Commission as other parts of the government:

“Everything the President’s asking all the other agencies to do, in this legislation, we’re saying FCC you should do as well. If every other agency of the government can do a cost-benefit analysis, and even do a higher, more sophisticated level, what’s wrong with asking the Federal Communications Commission to do a light-touch review of costs and benefits?”  Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.)

However, the other side of the aisle produced sharp criticisms, stating that the bill would essentially cut the FCC off at the knees, rendering it toothless:

“This bill would not reform the FCC, it would disable it. The bill erects procedural hurdles that make it more difficult for the FCC to protect consumers. It strips the FCC of its power to ensure that mergers between telecommunication companies are in the public interest. If this bill is enacted, it would stymie the ability of the agency to do much of anything, except produce reports for Congress.” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)

Limiting the power of the FCC to control mergers of communications giants might appear to be a principle that any limited-government minded person can get behind. However, with the massive media consolidation that have already seen in the past decade, it is somewhat troubling to imagine what would happen if the majors came even closer to one another.

But fret not, this has only passed the House. It’s utterly dead in the Senate. Again, this is but a highlight of Washington’s temperature. If you want to merge your giant communications behemoth, you know who to call.

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