Walden: No hearings for Comcast, AT&T mergers

Despite calls from Democrats, the top House Republican on telecom issues isn’t planning to hold hearings on the proposed multi-billion dollar deals to combine giants in the telecom industry.

“It’s not really our intent to hold individual hearings on every merger,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, told The Hill Wednesday.

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“You’ve got these agencies that have the ability to do an independent look,” including the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, he said.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the committee called on Walden and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to hold hearings on the recently-announced $45 billion deal to combine Comcast and Time Warner Cable as well as the $49 billion deal to merge AT&T and DirecTV.

“The Communications and Technology Subcommittee with its oversight jurisdiction over the media and communications sector has a responsibility to ensure these proposals meet the public interest test and truly benefit American consumers,” the Democrats wrote.

Walden said he receives these requests regularly, but his subcommittee is “trying to focus on the bigger policy issues.”

“We’re not an expert panel on the nuances of mergers, but we are a pretty darn good panel on freeing up spectrum and trying to reform process,” he said, pointing to bipartisan bills the subcommittee has passed this term.

“Then you let the independent experts decide if there’s an antitrust issue.”

Walden noted that other committees, including the House Judiciary Committee, are holding hearings on the proposed mergers.

“You can learn from that too,” he said.

Walden said he does have concerns that the FCC will use the hearings to achieve its regulatory goals, such as net neutrality, without going through agency process.

Although the Commission’s net neutrality rules , which kept Internet providers from slowing or blocking access to certain websites, were struck down by a federal court earlier this year, Comcast is bound to uphold the rules until 2018 under the conditions of its 2011 merger with NBC Universal.

Comcast and AT&T have both pledged to carry on with the now-defunct rules if their mergers are approved.

“I can’t imagine the FCC extorting from participants in a merger things they can’t legislate on their own,” Walden joked.

“Oh wait, I guess they do that all the time,” he said.