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FCC scraps plans for merger guidelines

The Federal Communications Commission has backed down on plans to create its own guidelines when reviewing mergers between U.S. cell phone carriers, an FCC representative says.

The Federal Communications Commission has backed down on plans to create its own guidelines when reviewing mergers between U.S. cell phone carriers, an FCC representative said.

Instead, the FCC likely will rely on an existing set of standards, such as those used by the Department of Justice.

"Ultimately, we did a lot of work and drafting, but it didn't move through the commission," the FCC representative said. The representative declined to be more specific about why the agency made its decision.

The FCC is one of several government agencies that review carriers' plans to merge. Currently, the FCC is required to base its decisions on the standards of fair competition developed by other government agencies. The FCC then explains in detail the reasons for its decisions.

If the commission were to have its own set of guidelines in place, however, the extra weeks spent creating what is essentially a legal argument would not be necessary. The FCC would merely point to its own guidelines.

But wireless carriers say it wouldn't streamline the process for them. Carriers instead would have to reargue their cases based on a new set of standards. "It would be like getting your test graded twice by two different teachers," said Travis Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

A small trickle of what's expected to be a larger flow of proposed mergers and acquisitions has already begun. In the past month, the FCC began reviewing Verizon Wireless' request to buy the spectrum licenses of Northcoast Communications, a wireless company funded by Cablevision.

Beginning in January, carriers are no longer limited to the amount of spectrum--the airwaves that cell phone calls travel through--that they can own. But spectrum is only occasionally auctioned off by the government, so most carriers are expected to merge or acquire other carriers to get the precious airwaves.