The announcement that AT&T plans to acquire T-Mobile USA is now nearly three months old and yet it seems that the FCC regulatory machine is sputtering, without a real timetable, and without a clear path for quality policy making. The review process is broken. Meanwhile, technology marches on.
Reviews take far too long despite measures put in place to encourage timely decisions. Decisions take well more than a year in many instances, when an innovation cycle in technology takes 18 months. Technological innovation and advance must not be slowed to the pace of government, resulting in market uncertainty, discouraged and restrained investment, and decreased economic growth.
If an FCC review of mergers must take place at all, then it should rest only on economic and technological rationales, allowing the merger to succeed or fail based upon those merits and do so in short order. Any challenges should be announced immediately.
A pattern of unnecessary government interference due to politics is clear in the history of other reviews, including Verizon-Alltel, Sirius-XM and most recently, the Comcast-NBCU merger. Regulatory agencies must resist the damaging effects of politically scrutinizing the merger-review process in order to exploit and extract concessions from companies while they’re at the mercy of those agencies. This approach has spurred a sickening parade of political opportunists, shakedown artists and rent seekers. Worse is that the FCC creates the atmosphere for such behavior.
The discriminatory application of conditions that has now become commonplace during FCC merger reviews only serves to burden one competitor in a vibrant free market, lessening the advantages brought to consumers. Policy should be made through a deliberative process involving all participants in the marketplace and not through the exceptional circumstances and vulnerability of a merger review process. The FCC seems to have forgotten that its goal is not simply to craft otherwise unattainable regulations, but instead is to discern the state of actual market competition and only then, if there is none, seek rules which would serve the consumer, not necessarily competitors. The consumer interest is being subverted to the interests of industry competitors.
Facts, not ideologies or personalities, should lead to the conclusions at the FCC. Declining to state in several FCC reviews that competition exists in the communication’s marketplace when all evidence points to rampant and growing competition makes a farce of the rulemaking process, mocking Congress and the people.
Today’s TechByte was written by Bartlett D. Cleland, Policy Counsel with the Institute for Policy Innovation.