US: Mega mergers offer loophole to net neutrality hurdles

As the Federal Communications Commission continues to face criticism by consumer advocates over its most recent proposals for Internet regulation, an offer some say is insufficient at ensuring net neutrality, reports say the FCC could use the recent spat of high-profile, high-stake mergers in the media industry to push the open Internet agenda.

FCC head Tom Wheeler has struggled to enforce net neutrality, which would prohibit Internet service providers from giving priority access to deliver certain content. The FCC’s first two proposals for such Internet rules were struck down in court, and the most recent offer, introduced earlier this month, received wide criticism from industry players and consumer watchdogs that claim the rules would allow major content providers to pay ISPs to deliver their content at faster speeds with higher quality, an unfair advantage against smaller content rivals.

But recent deals announced in the communications sector, including AT&T’s $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV, Comcast’s $45 billion buy of Time Warner Cable, and rumors of Sprint’s plan to acquire T-Mobile, could provide a new door for Wheeler to enforce net neutrality.

The high-profile transactions will need to earn approval from competition regulators as well as the FCC, and Wheeler could theoretically push the FCC’s agenda by requiring concessions from the merging players to approve of their deals.

Comcast is already under an agreement to guarantee net neutrality and said it would extend that promise to Time Warner should its acquisition be cleared. But according to consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, the FCC could push even further to enforce certain rules, including net neutrality, by enforcing them as requirements to clear the proposed mergers on the table.

Full content: Wall Street Journal

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