FCC Chairman Genachowski has just announced that the FCC will vote on an order designating the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile for a hearing. This is a significant setback for AT&T–most mergers that reach this stage end up failing. This isn’t the last step at the FCC, because the full Commission still needs to vote on the order, and then AT&T can either press its case before an Administrative Law Judge or simply withdraw its application. But’s it’s an important step and a victory for the public interest.
Public Knowledge has argued for this course of action ever since the DoJ filed. It’s been a steady theme of our meetings at the FCC, and the FCC should be commended for taking this action. But ultimately, the FCC isn’t doing this because Public Knowledge, our public interest allies, and prominent industry voices have asked it to. It’s the right thing to do, given how strong the evidence against the merger is, and how flimsy and self-serving AT&T’s arguments are for it.
Some people have wondered what the role of the FCC is, given that the Department of Justice has already filed a lawsuit to stop the merger. Harold wrote at length on the role of the FCC and the political dynamic facing the agency and AT&T back when the DoJ filed its suit, and his analysis is still essential reading. Expect more from him soon. In the meantime, the essential point is that the FCC and the DoJ have different and complementary roles. The FCC operates under a different legal standard and can look at the issue from a broader public interest perspective, instead just looking for antitrust violations. The FCC, for example, is best suited to dig into AT&T’s bogus jobs claims. And the FCC has more technical expertise than the DoJ, which allows it to judge AT&T’s arguments about spectrum. It’s a very good thing that the FCC has shown itself ready to use this expertise to challenge AT&T and T-Mobile’s thin claims about how this merger would benefit the public.