FCC Halts Bid to Streamline ‘Team Telecom’ Merger Reviews

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By Lydia Beyoud

Nov. 28 — The Federal Communications Commission has shelved an effort to streamline an interagency review process for proposed mergers involving foreign businesses, the agency confirmed to Bloomberg BNA on Nov. 28.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided to halt the effort regarding “Team Telecom” merger reviews after a Nov. 10 letter from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration opposing a proposed 90-day review deadline.

The NTIA represents a host of federal agencies involved in such efforts to review telecom mergers involving foreign entities. The review process typically includes the U.S. Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, and State departments, among others, that review mergers for national security and trade issues. Industry groups have criticized the process as a “black box” that can add months to an already lengthy FCC review process.

“We believe that establishing rigid time periods for processing applications would be premature, and reiterate our proposal that the Commission issue the rule without timeframes so that it can assess its impact on the Executive Branch’s ability to expedite its reviews,” the NTIA said in its letter.

The NTIA’s strong opposition to the proposed 90-day deadline made it unlikely the two agencies would have been able to reach a compromise on a final set of rules before the FCC’s Dec. 15 meeting. The NTIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The number of applications involving foreign ownership interests has increased in recent years. International telecom companies and their U.S. subsidiaries, including T-Mobile US Inc.'s parent company, Deutsche Telekom, Inc., as well as BT Americas Inc., Orange Business Services U.S. Inc. and Telefonica Internacional USA, Inc., urged the FCC to impose even shorter 75-day deadlines, according to an Aug. 18 filing.

The Republican FCC chairman to be appointed by President-elect Donald Trump may resume the streamlining effort, which the telecom industry widely backs, several industry sources told Bloomberg BNA on background.

Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was spearheading the effort to speed up the Team Telecom review process, and had advocated for hard deadlines in order to make it easier for U.S. companies to gain foreign investment. Wheeler also supported stricter Team Telecom response times, saying June 24 that the deadlines would make the process “more predictable and transparent” for everyone involved.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The NTIA letter is at: //src.bna.com/kkQThe international telecom companies’ letter is at: //src.bna.com/kkP

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