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Free State: Streamlining FCC Hearings Could Promote Better Decisionmaking

Free State Foundation president Randolph May said a potential benefit to the FCC's proposal to streamline the process for referring items to the FCC's lone administrative law judge (ALJ) will be to prevent that referral from becoming an easy way to kill a proposed merger without having to weigh into tough issues.

"Perhaps the most significant salutary impact of the streamlined procedures will be to reduce the likelihood that a formal trial-type adjudication process will be used by the Commission as a sure-fire “kill mechanism” to bury proposed mergers without the agency ever having to reach a decision on the merits of the proposed transaction," May wrote Friday (Sept. 20) in a guest blog for Yale.

Historically, when the FCC designates a merger for hearing--AT&T-T-Mobile back in 2011 and Sinclair-Tribune most recently--the parties see the handwriting on the wall, as in the FCC's predisposition not to approve, and a drawn-out proceeding extending beyond their agreed-upon deadlines for merger and with no guarantee of a positive outcome, and so they pull the plug, as Sinclair did.

May said that a streamlined hearing process could make those hearings an "adjudicative activity" that promotes "efficiency, fairness, and sound administration."