FCC's Copps On Wireless Merger: 'What Residue Of Competition Will Be Left'?

AT&T's plan to merge with T-Mobile isn't sitting well with at least one Federal Communications Commission member: Michael Copps.

"I would hope that my colleagues, in looking at this transaction in the months ahead, will be asking themselves some pretty serious questions about what residue of competition will be left if this merger is approved," he says in an interview slated to air on C-SPAN Sunday, and written up today on Politico.

If the $39 billion merger goes through, the AT&T/T-Mobile entity would become the nation's largest wireless company.

When asked what types of conditions he would favor, Copps says that though he's not "into conditions," net neutrality is "important."

Copps isn't the only one to suggest that the companies should agree to follow net neutrality principles in order to secure merger approval. But at this point, the proposals remain extremely vague.

The FCC's recent neutrality rules ban wireless companies from blocking content or competing apps. But those rules don't prohibit wireless providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination -- presumably including paid prioritization arrangements where companies pay for fast-lane treatment. The absence of that type of ban has led many neutrality advocates to complain that the FCC's rules don't go far enough.

Even the relatively weak FCC rules might not be around for much longer, given that Congress is considering whether to vote to vacate them, and that Verizon and MetroPCS have mounted a legal challenge to them at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Observers think that the wireless companies have a good chance of winning their legal action because the same court deciding that matter has already ruled that the FCC lacks authority to enforce neutrality rules.

But, regardless of what happens in Congress or the courts, the FCC now has the opportunity to impose conditions on AT&T/T-Mobile, including a prohibition on unreasonable discrimination. Doing so could help preserve neutrality on the wireless Web, especially since the new merged company will account for such a larger share of the market.

1 comment about "FCC's Copps On Wireless Merger: 'What Residue Of Competition Will Be Left'?".
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  1. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, April 1, 2011 at 8:19 p.m.

    Fine. Let the merger go forward and then reinstate the common carrier rules applying them to mobile phone (and Internet). So much of US speech is now committed to the digital infrastructure that whatever utility acquires the license to operated must protect the citizen's rights to engage and speech a commerce. Carriers should not be enabled to lay a private tax on the exercise of contitutional rights. AT&T and Bell were more customer-centric when they operated under common carrier rules than any of the "investor" driven entities since then.

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