FCC Merger Shot Clock Bill Re-Introduced

The FCC could be getting a real merger shot clock if some Senate Republicans have anything to do with it. 

Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch (both R-Utah), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have re-introduced the Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules (SMARTER) Act, which would put the FCC's merger review process on an actual 180-day shot clock.

Currently the FCC has an informal 180-day shot clock, but has been known to exceed that by more than double.

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"The Commission shall make a determination to approve or deny a covered application not later than 180 days after the date on which the applicants provide to the Commission the last submission, relating to the application, before the Commission provides public notice of the application," the bill reads. 

The FCC would require permission from a court to extend that by 30 days, then could get further 30-day extensions for a number of reasons, including if applicants had not timely complied with information requests. 

The FCC already routinely stops its informal clock when it is awaiting more info from applicants.

Dating the new shot clock from the completed application is a change from a previous version, where it was the original, potentially incomplete, application. 

The bill's backers say the lack of a real FCC shot clock "creates uncertainty for transacting parties, fuels the politicization of the merger review process, and effectively enables the FCC to evade judicial review."

The legislation also streamlines judicial challenges to applications denied by the FCC by removing the step of an FCC administrative law judge hearing.

The bill also requires the Federal Trade Commission, when it conducts antitrust reviews, to "satisfy the same standards that Justice must meet to obtain a preliminary injunction to block a merger and require the FTC to litigate the merits of contested mergers [as DOJ is doing with the AT&T-Time Warner merger] in federal court under the Clayton Act rather than before its own administrative tribunals."

“I applaud Senator Lee for working to ensure that good government is the law of the land," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. "With the SMARTER Act, Senator Lee would put the Federal Communications Commission on a shot clock and thus codify the agency’s commitment to open, transparent, and timely decision making.”

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.