NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Interest Standard Delays Broadcasting License Approvals

December 14, 1998

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission routinely processed more than 14,000 license transfers for various telecommunications services. The process is usually rapid and unnoteworthy. But radio license transfers involved in the merger of major firms are subject to a months-long investigation under a "public interest" standard that is hardly ever applied elsewhere, experts report.

  • Critics complain the FCC's public-interest review process has delayed several mergers that other antitrust authorities had approved.
  • FCC review has also led to the imposition of conditions on some of the mergers.
  • While the FCC has the authority to review mergers and acquisitions under the antitrust standards of the Clayton Act, the agency doesn't use this authority because its standards are narrow and rigorous; instead, it uses the public interest standard, which gives it much greater leverage to block mergers.
  • Critics charge today's public-interest standard as applied by the FCC is intrusive, inefficient and fundamentally discriminatory.

It is being suggested that the agency consider adopting transparent rules for the public-interest review of license transfers -- rules which are predictable and fair.

Source: Harold W. Furchtgott-Roth (FCC Commissioner), "FCC Regulations Aren't in the Public Interest," Wall Street Journal, December 14, 1998.


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