Republicans seek to reform FCC, exercise more control over telecom mergers

fcc-reform

Republicans in the U.S. government are seeking to limit the Federal Communication Commission’s power to oversee mergers in the tech and telecommunications arena.

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act passed in the House of Representatives last night, 274-174, with only 12 Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The legislation seeks to bring more oversight to the big (and rapidly accelerating) business of communications mergers and acquisitions.

Recently, the FCC was involved in the approval of major deals such as Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility — a combination that had many sidelines-bound watchers scratching their heads. Google carefully avoided the appearance of antitrust issues, and the FCC, which was involved primarily because Motorola Mobility owned some licenses under the commission’s jurisdiction, gave the deal the nod.

However, about a year ago, when AT&T announced its intention to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion, the FCC was the agency that needed to decide whether or not the deal would leave the wireless industry competitive. In the end, when the FCC chair decided the merger would be bad for consumers, and the companies’ application to the FCC was killed off and withdrawn.

And then there was the Comcast-NBC merger, which the FCC approved but with some interesting stipulations about content.

The new proposed legislation does require more transparency from the FCC on merger applications and other activities, but it might impede the FCC’s ability to propose stipulations that promote the public interest — for example, the FCC’s pressuring Comcast for more diversity-friendly programming during the NBC merger.

House Democrats argued that the reform bill would effectively shut down the FCC, and some question whether the bill will pass muster with Senate Democrats. However, Democrats on Capitol Hill are making amendments to the bill as it works its way through the legislative branch.