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FCC Chairman Reaffirms Hands-Off Approach to AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed Tuesday that the regulator would not review AT&T’s merger with Time Warner.

Pai, speaking onstage during a discussion of 5G at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, declined to comment further on the mega-merger. On Monday, he told the Wall Street Journal he did not expect the deal to come before the FCC because it involves no license transfers that would trigger commission review.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump expressed his opposition to the AT&T-Time Warner merger. Asked whether the political environment in Washington affected his own decision-making, Pai said he took “a very boring, humble view of my role as a regulator: We are an independent agency that is charged with analyzing all the facts that are put before us and trying to render a decision based on well-established laws and precedents.”

He added: “My role is not to read the headlines and try to make a determination based on who said what and in what forum. It is the very limited role of looking at the papers that are in front of me and rendering a decision based on the facts and the law, because once I stray from that mission, then I become nothing more than a political actor as well, and I take my role seriously as defending the public interest and not the particular private interests of any company or person.”

Pai would not be drawn on whether the U.S. market needs to consolidate more to allow operators to have deeper pockets to pay for 5G.

“No regulator… should hypothesize in the abstract about what the optimal market structure should be, [or] what the optimal number of competitors should be,” he said. “The goal is always to have a competitive marketplace that both protects consumers and provides an incentive for the private sector to continue investing and innovating.”

He added: “All we can do is take a look at the marketplace in a moment in time and try to discern: Is this regulatory framework the best one we can have in order to incentivize these massive investments in networks that are going to benefit consumers in years to come?”

Industry observers are anxious to see what Pai is going to do about net neutrality. He did not address the issue specifically in Barcelona, but did indicate that, in general, he intends to adopt a light touch with regard to regulation. He said the FCC needed to turn back from the heavy regulation of President Barack Obama’s second term.

“Two years ago, the United States deviated from our successful, light-touch approach,” Pai said. “The FCC decided to apply last-century, utility-style regulation to today’s broadband networks. Rules developed to tame a 1930s monopoly were imported into the 21st century to regulate the internet.”

He said the heavy-handed treatment of the sector had resulted in “the first-ever decline in broadband investment outside of a recession.”

He added: “Today, the torch at the FCC has been passed to a new generation, dedicated to renewal as well as change. We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light-touch internet regulation – one that helped America’s digital economy thrive. And we are on track to returning to that successful approach.”

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