Thursday, December 05, 2013

Wheeler FCC Off to a Good Start in Handling Transaction Reviews

Yesterday, the FCC's International Bureau approved Verizon's buyout of Vodafone's stake in Verizon Wireless. It did this applying the FCC's new foreign ownership rules that are intended to reduce processing delays and, at the same time, stimulate foreign investment in the U.S.

The Commission, under new Chairman Tom Wheeler's leadership, deserves credit for acting quickly on Verizon's petition seeking approval of the buyout. To be candid, there was no legitimate reason for the Commission not to act quickly. But many times in the past, even absent legitimate reasons for delay, there still have been undue delays – many beyond "undue" – in acting on transaction reviews.

If the FCC's relatively quick action is an indication that Chairman Wheeler intends to speed up transaction reviews, then I certainly applaud him for it because, as I have long argued, the pace of marketplace change often outruns the pace of FCC decisionmaking.

For almost fifteen years, in a pretty steady drumbeat, I have been critical of the FCC's abuse of its transaction review process, especially the way the agency often uses the review process to extract conditions from the applicants unrelated to the impacts, competitive or otherwise, created by the transaction. You can read the first Legal Times piece, "Any Volunteers?" here. In the instance, in addition to acting without undue delay, the Commission did not use the transaction review process as an opportunity to apply any such unwarranted conditions.

So, while the Verizon-Vodafone transaction is by no means a good test of how the agency will handle other, more controversial transactions, nevertheless I am happy to credit Tom Wheeler and his team for getting off on the right foot in the handling of this particular transaction.