WASHINGTON — The pace of consolidation in the media industry is sending chills down the spines of some key senators, who promise to hold hearings on the AOL-Time Warner merger when they return from winter recess later this month.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senate Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who both happen to be presidential candidates, have targeted the AOL-Time Warner agenda for review.
“We need to ensure that we don’t have an environment like that in which we found ourselves at the beginning of the last century — one which was dominated by oil barons and railroads, and ultimately resulted in heavy-handed regulation,” Hatch said in a statement released by his committee.
After the merger was announced last week, Hatch met with representatives from AOL and Time Warner to discuss “the implications for consumers and competition in the Internet market.” Hatch characterized the meeting as “helpful and productive.”
Also weighing in on the proposed merger was the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy said the merger made sense but cautioned that the Senate will have to “look closely at whether it makes public policy sense to consolidate control of content, cable and Internet service distribution channels.”
McCain said he was “very concerned” about the AOL-Time Warner merger and promised to hold hearings on the combination. Congress does not have the power to reject a merger, but it can pressure agencies such as the FCC and the Justice Dept. to give the deal a thorough investigation.