With the hours running out on the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission, Charter Communications withdrew its petition that the commission end two conditions on the company’s merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.
That petition was one of the issues that appeared to be left hanging as FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s tenure drew to a close. He exited on Jan. 20, with President Joe Biden naming Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as acting chairwoman the next day.
Pai was never a fan of merger stipulations, which he sees as attempts to regulate via condition.
“At this time, the bureau will no longer consider filings specific to this petition,” said the Wireline Competition Bureau, “but the docket will remain open for additional filings, such as those required by Charter or the Independent Compliance Officer.”
Charter has been looking to get out from under the “no charging for interconnection” and “no usage-based/data caps” pricing conditions. A court threw out the first condition, so that request was essentially moot, but the second is still in force. Those conditions were set to expire in May 2023 but Charter wanted them to end in May 2021.
FCC approval could have had a major impact on Charter’s over-the-top video strategy. In imposing the conditions, the agency said they were to ensure Charter could not “hamper or prevent its current and future online video rivals from expanding, becoming more competitive, or starting up in the first place.” Charter had suggested those OTT rivals hardly need protection from the company given that rival internet service providers have not had similar conditions and the over-the-top marketplace is flourishing.
Charter likely saw the handwriting on the wall with the upcoming change in administrations. FCC Democrats now in control were fans of the merger conditions.
One of those commissioners, Rosenworcel, now acting chairwoman, voted against deregulating internet providers and has called for the return of rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, as has fellow Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks. She and Starks have also voted against eliminating broadcast regulations.
Until Democrats can confirm a new fellow party member to fill the seat of the exiting Republican chair Pai, the commission will be at a 2-2 political tie, meaning noncontroversial items are likely on the docket at the outset.
Rosenworcel could become permanent chair down the road, though Biden could have simply designated her chair had that been the plan. With the Senate controlled by Democrats, it will be easier for Biden to pick someone else, who might still need Senate confirmation. Rosenworcel, though, has plenty of fans inside and outside the commission, particularly on Capitol Hill.
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