FCC chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday he would get a staff legal analysis confirming his belief that the way the AT&T-Time Warner merger is being structured, the FCC has no authority to conduct a public interest review.
That came in questioning during a Senate Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing.
The Justice Department is currently reviewing the proposed merger for antitrust issues, but it was not submitted to the FCC for a public interest review that looks beyond preventing competitive harms to looking at the benefits to consumers and the marketplace.
Asked by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, whether the FCC would be reviewing the deal, Pai said that since no license was changing hands—the "jurisdictional hook" for the FCC's review—it would not have a role. "In so far as that remains the case, it is my belief the FCC would not have the legal authority to review that transaction."
Schatz asked whether Pai had asked his staff for a legal analysis confirming it would have no role. Pai said no, but agreed when pressed by Schatz that he would do so and share the findings with the committee.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked if Pai would do a public interest review analysis of the deal anyway. The chairman said if the deal is not filed with the FCC, it would have no fact set on which to review it. But he did say he would take that request back to the General Counsel's office.