Tech Bytes – Tid Bits in Tech News: Merger Debate Puts the FCC on the Hot Seat

As discussed in our inaugural Tech Byte, the war between Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is heating up. The most recent battle has focused on the FCC’s role in the merger review process. With several big mergers on the horizon, the FCC is still backlogged with mergers that have been pending for years.

Congressman Bliley is not alone in his outspoken criticism of the FCC. Representative Richard Burr not only “couldn’t agree more” with CSE’s position that the FCC should be removed from the merger review process, but has joined presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain in introducing legislation to formally strip the FCC of any authority over the merger review process.

As firms continue to grow in an effort to better serve consumers by offering lower prices and more choices, the cumbersome and ambiguous merger review process continues to stand in the way of progress. On Monday, a federal task force led by a bi-partisan panel of academics, former regulators, and business and labor representatives also suggested the FCC be stripped of its merger review authority.

The task force avoided mentioning any pending mergers, but cited the numerous problems, delays, and inconsistencies in recent FCC reviews in declaring that the United States would have a difficult time appealing for international reform until we got our own house in order.

The FCC has finally begun to hear the message and has been holding hearings this week on ways to streamline and speed up its merger review process. While this is a step in the right direction it still works on assumption that the FCC needs to be involved in antitrust aspects of the review process. In fact, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are better equipped and formally charged with that responsibility.

Yesterday, CSE and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) sent a letter to the FCC in support of the pending Bell Atlantic and GTE merger before the FCC. The FCC should get out of the way of high tech mergers and allow the DOJ and FTC to do their job. Once these complicated, arcane, and expensive barriers are removed from the merger process consumers will enjoy the full benefits of high technology.