FCC Faces Busy Year of Acquisitions, Auctions and Regulation

The following is on the schedule for the Federal Communications Commission: whether to approve or block AT&T’s newly announced $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV, whether to allow Comcast’s proposed $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable, establish rules for next year’s auction of TV airwaves to wireless carriers, and determine whether and/or how to regulate the way broadband providers treat traffic over networks (and possibly face a busier calendar if Sprint makes a bid for T-Mobile).

“This year holds some of the most important regulatory decisions and industry transformative transactions requiring FCC to work together effectively,” said Gene Kimmelman, chief exec of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, formerly with the Justice Department.

The controversial net neutrality proposal by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the upcoming spectrum auction plans are expected to generate months of debate on their own. The pending acquisitions that raise questions involving competition and monopolies could be a burden to the agency.

“A merger of AT&T and DirecTV would likely be reviewed by the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission for its impact on competition and would need approval from the FCC over whether the transaction is in the public interest,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Such reviews typically take six to nine months, though the period can increase significantly depending on the complexity of the deal and the FCC’s agenda, which is currently packed.”

The FCC is expected to look closely at AT&T’s U-Verse and the potential impact of combining DirecTV’s pay TV service with AT&T’s phone and broadband offerings.

“Instead of innovating and investing in their networks, companies like AT&T and Comcast are simply buying up the competition,” said Craig Aaron, CEO of advocacy group Free Press. “These takeovers are expensive, and consumers end up footing the bill for merger mania.”

“As part of its pitch to regulators, AT&T committed to living under net-neutrality rules passed by the FCC in 2010, which bar the company from striking deals with content providers for preferential treatment on its broadband networks,” notes WSJ. “A federal court struck down the rules in January, and the FCC has since proposed new rules that won’t be final until later this year. AT&T also committed to offering stand-alone high-speed broadband service to 15 million customers on top of its previous plans to expand its broadband footprint.”