Dems press FCC chief on AT&T-Time Warner merger

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday said he would allow an independent analysis by his agency’s lawyers of his decision not to review the proposed AT&T merger with Time Warner.

Pai in February decided that the agency did not need to review the merger to see if it is “in the public interest” because no FCC broadcast licenses would be transferred in the $85 billion deal. The Justice Department will still conduct its own antitrust review.

But the FCC chairman’s decision sparked criticism from Democrats, who pressed him on the matter during his first appearance before Congress as the agency’s chief on Wednesday.

{mosads}In response to questions before the Senate Commerce Committee, Pai said he would be willing to let agency lawyers review his decision that the FCC did not need to conduct a “public interest” analysis.

He told Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) that he believed his legal conclusion was correct but would share the analysis of the agency’s lawyers with the committee.

Democrats on the Commerce panel pushed Pai on the merger and the administration’s stance.

President Trump during the campaign said he would oppose the merger but has since softened his tone and said he is undecided. Trump has regularly clashed with one of Time Warner’s networks, CNN, over its coverage of his administration.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) raised a Wall Street Journal article that reported that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, had raised concerns about CNN’s coverage of Trump to a Time Warner executive. Udall questioned if the president’s fight with CNN might influence the administration’s decision on whether to approve the merger.

Pai said he had no conversations with the administration about the merger and vowed to “commit to following all the appropriate protocols and ethical requirements.”

After the hearing, Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also pressed for having the agency review the merger.

“If you were to combine the economic impact of the Comcast-NBCUniversal and the AT&T-T-Mobile transactions, the AT&T-Time Warner merger is $16 billion more,” Clyburn said.

“It boggles my mind,” she said, that the FCC would not conduct a through review.

This story was updated at 2:15 p.m.

Tags Tom Udall

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