FCC Can Block Elon Musk's Twitter Play, Says Open Markets Group

Elon Musk’s Twitter account is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 26, 2022 in Paris, France.
(Image credit: Chesnot/Getty Images)

Citing Elon Musk's ownership of satellite internet platform Starlink, the Open Markets Institute says that the FCC, Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission all have the power to block his purchase of social media giant Twitter.

In a statement following the deal announcement, OMI, a liberal think tank that has big issues with perceived monopolies, sees Musk's Twitter takeover as just that, and says the FCC, for one, can block it based on the Communications Act of 1934 and even the Telegraph Act of 1860, given that the deal would give a single person "direct control over one of the world's most important platforms for public communications and debate."

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DOJ and the FTC certainly have a role in reviewing the $40 billion-plus deal, but the FCC's role is less clear, particularly since it basically shed itself of broadband access oversight -- beyond service transparency obligations -- when it reclassified internet as an information service.

OMI also says the deal would be a merger between essential platforms -- Starlink and Twitter -- that the government routinely acts to prevent.

Interestingly, the group cites for example the DOJ's effort to block the ATT&T/Time Warner deal, which actually failed after a court refused to block that merger.

OMI suggests that Starlink, which has yet to become a major internet player (though it did get a lot of press for Musk's effort to use the satellites to provide internet access to war-torn Ukraine) is comparable to the largest media operations. 

"[J]ust as we would now expect the U.S. government to block a takeover of Twitter by Google, Facebook, Comcast, or Verizon, the same rules apply to the owners of Starlink," it said in a statement.

Many Democrats are concerned that Musk's pledge of reduced content moderation on the platform -- in the name of free speech -- will lead to an increase in disinformation and misinformation. 

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who has been crticial of what Republicans see as Twitter's censorship of conservative speech, including that of former President Donald Trump, was unconvinced.

“The FCC has no authority to block Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and to suggest otherwise is absurd," said Carr in a statement. "I would welcome the full FCC making it clear that we will not entertain these types of frivolous arguments.”■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.