Editorial: Deal!

Wheeler signals how involved he wants the FCC in mergers implicated with broadband
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FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last week signaled he is not opposed to big media deals, when appropriately conditioned. But he also showed just how involved the FCC wants to be when those mergers implicate broadband speeds and deployment.

Wheeler last week circulated the order approving the AT&T/DirecTV deal, and without some of the expected network neutrality conditions, according to a source familiar with the document, but with other conditions that showed the FCC means business on broadband.

AT&T has promised to expand its planned high-speed broadband build-outs. But just in case, Wheeler said an independent monitor will be keeping tabs on all the deal conditions.

AT&T has not pledged to adhere to network neutrality rules as a deal condition, though it has already pledged its support for the bright-line rules. AT&T did not agree to abide by Title II reclassification, which makes sense given how strongly it is opposed to that regime and the court challenge it has joined.

Comcast agreed to abide by the 2010 network neutrality rules as a deal condition, but it had not challenged those compromise rules in court.

But what the deal lacked in net neutrality bright-line rules or Title II-related conditions it made up for in signaling the FCC’s dislike of data caps and concerns about interconnection agreements, which are now covered under a general conduct standard in the new net neutrality rules.

AT&T cannot exempt affiliated online video services from data caps and the FCC will get to review its interconnection agreements—which may be fi ne with AT&T, given that it has recently come to mutually agreeable terms with a number of network service providers. But this could be a troubling precedent if the FCC plans to make a habit of reviewing marketplace deals (especially given the agency’s thick docket). It has appropriately avoided getting into the middle of retrans disputes. It should not start refereeing interconnection agreements.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last week signaled he is not opposed to big media deals, when appropriately conditioned. But he also showed just how involved the FCC wants to be when those mergers implicate broadband speeds and deployment.

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