Nearly three months ago, Chairman Kennard issued an invitation to SBC and Ameritech to enter into a months-long secretive set of negotiations with FCC bureau staff and himself to impose terms and conditions on their proposed merger. I offered a counterproposal, an open process involving all of the Commissioners to review what is narrowly and lawful at issue at the FCC, namely license transfers. Regrettably, SBC and Ameritech accepted only the Chairman's proposal.
In the past I have written about and testified on the ad hoc, arbitrary, and at times seemingly unlawful nature of license transfer reviews at the FCC. (1) The Commission routinely grants tens of thousands of license transfers annually, holds some up for a low degree of scrutiny, and holds a few up for close scrutiny, all without clear and written rules about which transfers fall in which category.
Even in an agency with ever new and unpredictable twists and turns for license transfer reviews, the process for the review of the transfer of licenses to SBC from Ameritech sets new standards for ad hocery. The Common Carrier Bureau has unveiled today the product of months of secret meetings. Do the ends justify the means? What we have are unprecedented ad hoc and arbitrary ends from unprecedented ad hoc and arbitrary means.
A year ago, SBC and Ameritech applied for a license transfer stipulating that it was in the public interest. Today, SBC and Ameritech appear to have changed their minds, and agree that their license transfer would only be in the public interest with conditions negotiated in secret with the Commission. Do SBC and Ameritech now concede that the proposed license transfer of a year ago was not in the public interest? I am left wondering which if any license transfers are in the public interest:
The parties to these license transfers should not delude themselves into thinking that the staff negotiated conditions are the final ones. The public has yet to speak and it is impossible to believe that the Commission can leave the negotiated conditions unaltered in the face of what will likely be thousands of pages of comment. Surely the Commission and staff plan to give these comments due consideration.
For the past few months, I have not heard directly from the parties in this matter, either those favoring or those opposing the license transfer. I will read the proposals with great interest, and I am sure the public at large will as well.