WASHINGTON, March 3, 2011 – FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker outlined a plan to reform the Commission corporate mergers review process in a keynote address at the Institute for Policy Innovation’s Communications Summit Wednesday.
Commissioner Baker’s plan comes barely a month after the agency’s approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal (CNBCU) merger. That merger review took nearly a year to complete and resulted in an agreement rife with conditions – including a major concession that the new company would abide by the FCC’s controversial Open Internet Order, even if the Order were eventually struck down in the courts.
Conservative critics have maligned the agreement as an unacceptable intrusion by government regulators into the free market.
Commissioner Baker, in addition to taking issue with the final agreement in the CNBCU merger, has also voiced objections to the merger review process as a whole, typifying it as one that is inefficient, overreaching and unnecessarily time-consuming.
“The Current FCC merger review process is ripe for overhaul,” Baker noted.
Citing concerns that the current merger process will discourage investment in telecommunications – or at least in telecommunications in the U.S. – Baker called out several parts of the review process for revision. Requiring multiple agencies to review mergers, she said, is duplicative and unnecessary, the process takes far longer than it ought to, and conditions attached frequently do not serve the public interest.
In response to the issues she presented, Baker also proposed a number of solutions, including working with Congress to streamline the process, imposing a binding timeline on reviews and ensuring that any conditions are more closely tied to actual and specific harms.
Baker elaborated further on instituting timelines and restricting merger conditions, both of which are issues she has publicly commented on during FCC open meetings and while testifying before Congress. Her plan would implement a binding 180-day deadline on reviews, with a possible 60-day extension “that would be the exception, not the rule.”
The Commissioner also asserted that calling merger conditions “voluntary” is disingenuous. She then quoted former FCC Commissioner, Kathleen Abernathy, in calling such conditions “quid pro quo.”
“[Conditions] have become the cost of doing business with the Agency,” said Baker. “It devolves into how to get more out of the transaction.”
Rather, she said, conditions should only be allowed where they are closely tied to actual harms. Specifically, she called out conditions in the CNBCU merger that require the new company to invest in broadband buildout and low-income access. While Baker lauded the intention and effect of the programs, she took issue with the lack of direct link between the conditions and actual harms stemming from the merger.
“[Allowing expansive conditions] invites special interests to use mergers for their own purposes,” said Baker. “It delays and muddles reviews.”
FCC Announces Largest Approval Yet for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: $1 Billion
The agency said Thursday it has approved $1 billion to 69 providers in 32 states.
WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced its largest approval yet from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, greenlighting on Thursday $1 billion from a reverse auction process that ended with award announcements in December but that the new-look agency has been scrutinizing in recent months.
The agency said in a press release that this fifth round of approvals includes 69 providers who are expected to serve 518,000 locations in 32 states over 10 years. Its previous round approved $700 million worth of applications to cover 26 states. Previous rounds approved $554 million for broadband in 19 states, $311 million in 36 states, and $163 million in 21 states.
The agency still has some way to approve the entirety of the fund, as it’s asked providers that were previously awarded RDOF money in December to revisit their applications to see if the areas they have bid for are not already served. So far, a growing list have defaulted on their respective areas, some saying it was newer FCC maps that showed them what they didn’t previously know. The agency said Thursday that about 5,000 census blocks have been cleared as a result of that process.
The FCC also said Thursday it saved $350 million from winning bidders that have either failed to get state certification or didn’t follow through on their applications. In one winning bidder’s case, the FCC said Thursday Hotwire violated the application rules by changing its ownership structure.
“This latest round of funding will open up even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today’s actions reflect the hard work we’ve put in over the past year to ensure that applicants meet their obligations and follow our rules. With thoughtful oversight, this program can direct funding to areas that need broadband and to providers who are qualified to do the job.”
Local Government Advisors Concerned by Delay in Sohn Confirmation Process
They also believe Alan Davidson will be viewed more favorably to head the NTIA.
WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – Local government advisors are concerned by delays in the confirmation process of Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, and what those delays will mean for broadband services in local communities.
At the moment, there are reportedly not enough votes from Democrats to confirm Sohn.
The panel of local advisors at a National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors on Monday said the FCC would likely remain split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans until at least February, when the panel says Sohn’s confirmation will probably pass the Senate.
Such a split would prevent the agency from making some major decisions that would ramp up programs to expand broadband access for Americans. For this reason, several civil society groups have asked the Senate for a swift confirmation process of Biden’s nominees.
The panel also said that Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Association, Alan Davidson, will likely be reported favorably out of committee.
Logistical problems for the Affordable Connectivity Program
Panelists also spent significant time discussing what current regulatory agency efforts mean for connectivity.
The panel critiqued the FCC’s transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit to the Affordable Connectivity Program provided for by the newly-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to continue providing students with internet access for e-learning. The program provides monthly subsidies for connectivity and devices for eligible students.
This transition is planned to take place with the start of the 2022 new year, and the agency is fielding comments on how to transition.
The panel stated that because this transition takes place during the school year, it has the potential to strand students without connectivity services. Panelists noted that they have been trying to communicate these concerns to the FCC.
The FCC recently eliminated an enrollment freeze in the EBB that was planned to take place during the transition to the ACP.
FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event
Procedural hurdles lie ahead for the commission’s telehealth efforts.
WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and several leaders in healthcare said Monday the agency’s efforts to expand telehealth programs for Americans face procedural hurdles before Congress.
The cost of government telehealth expansion efforts is among key factors that create congressional hesitance to rubber stamp the FCC’s telehealth initiatives.
During panel discussions moderated by Carr at a commission event on Monday, experts also remarked that the commission’s efforts would require a good deal of regulatory flexibility that many members of Congress may not be willing to grant it.
Panel guest Deanna Larson, CEO of virtual health network Avera eCARE, testified before the Senate on the matter in October, urging Congress to extend or make permanent its regulatory flexibility toward telehealth.
The panels also spent time discussing the substantial success the FCC has had in expanding telehealth over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts emphasized accomplishments such as the employment of remote monitoring devices by physicians to physically examine patients when they cannot come into the office.
The panel stated that the move from fully in-person healthcare to telehealth can be compared to the significance of the move from “Blockbuster to Netflix,” referencing the at-home experience of the streaming platform.
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