Telecom Mergers Need Global Context

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In a policy statement guaranteed to warm the hearts of  U.S. telecom companies looking to get together,  William Kovacic, one of two new nominees to the Federal Trade Commission, suggested Monday that the FTC needed to look at the global market when gauging the competition for merging companies.

In evaluating U.S. firms or transactions involving them, he said, the arena is global. He said he thought there was already a trend in agency staffers asking what the correct context for a merger should be, and that he saw that trend continuing.

Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) agreed, urging both nominees to consider telecommunications mergers in the next decade in terms of international competition. Some domestic companies that look big compared to each other start to look small when compared to the foreign companies that are competing with them in the global marketplace, he said, particularly in the telecommunications area.

Kovacic and J. Thomas Rosch, both former FTC staffers, appeared to be shoo-ins, getting praise and no tough questions from Stevens or co-chair Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday.

Rosh, former "Antitrust Lawyer of the Year" in California and a partner at Latham & Watkins, and Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University and counsel to D.C. law firm Bryan Cave, were agreed that the FTC's priorities were energy policy, health care, and getting a handle on Internet issues including spam, spyware and identity theft.

Both worked for the commission early in their careers and said they came back to make a difference. Not just collect the low-hanging fruit, but to plant some trees that would be around after they are gone.
Both pushed the committee to pass the FTC-proposed Safe Web Act, which would allow for more global sharing of information and cooperative investigation of online fraud.

Rosch said his "unifying principle" of regulating would be "visibility." He said he admires the highway patrol model. "When they are on my tail, I am more cautious," he said. Rosch said the commission needs to staff up, and to build better bench strength when it goes to trial against some of the best lawyers in the country.

Kovacic is up for the seat of Orson Swindle, a Reagan appointee who has been openly critical of calls for restrictions on food ads, though that issue did not come up in the brief questioning of his replacement.

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