Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle are promising a string of hearings to scrutinize AT&T’s proposed takeover of rival T-Mobile, a merger that would create the largest wireless carrier in the United States.
Democrats were quick to call for oversight hearings, with Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., putting his marker down within hours of AT&T’s announcement on Sunday.
"With every passing day, wireless services are becoming more and more important to the way we communicate. So it is absolutely essential that both the Department of Justice and the [Federal Communications Commission] leave no stone unturned in determining what the impact of this combination is on the American people,” Rockefeller said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee will also “take a close look” at the “loss of competition,” said the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., on Sunday. He criticized an “increasingly concentrated” wireless market.
On Monday afternoon, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said his committee will examine the proposed merger and its potential impact on the industry, as well as the American economy as a whole.
“Congress must take a close look at the plan to ensure that the proposed merger promotes a healthy and competitive telecommunications market," Smith said.
Other top members of key congressional committees also weighed in on Monday.
“Competition is essential to promoting a vibrant wireless market, where consumers have a choice in the innovative services and devices available to them,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee. She said she would lead the effort to have the subcommittee hold hearings on the proposed merger.
Beyond the competitiveness and economic issues, AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile is likely to reignite congressional debate over the federal regulatory process itself. After the Federal Communications Commission approved Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal in January, some Democrats, including Rockefeller, complained that the agency didn’t push for greater consumer protections.
On the Republican side, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, called the FCC’s process a “Chicago-style shakedown,” and vowed to investigate the agency’s methods.
On Monday the two Republicans said they plan to use the AT&T and T-Mobile merger to look at reforming the FCC.
"A proposed transaction of this scale also underscores the importance of an objective review process at the FCC," Upton and Walden said in a statement. "A key question for this committee is whether the FCC is conducting thorough market analysis and how that influences the agency’s decision-making. We believe such analysis is essential to this and other transactions, and we intend to determine how Congress should reform the FCC’s process going forward.”