at AOL/Time Warner En Banc Hearing
July 27, 2000
Today we will be hearing from the proponents and opponents of the AOL/Time Warner merger. This proposed merger is not only one of the largest in U.S. history, but combines the control of conduit and content in an unprecedented fashion, implicating issues that are at the core of our democracy. It raises the specter of barriers to the free flow in the marketplace of ideas that has been the essence of our democracy. If the shelves in the marketplace of ideas are stocked by too few hands, a kind of digital imperialism may replace a well-informed citizenry.
In the face of this, the Commission's statutory authority and obligation is abundantly clear - the public's interest must be advanced if this merger is to be approved. When the proposal before us is viewed through the public interest lens, several significant concerns and questions arise. I will highlight only a few here. I am particularly concerned about the impact of this proposal on the diversity of voices and ideas. I am also concerned that this merger may limit a consumer's choice regarding internet service providers or cable delivery services.
One question is repeatedly raised: does the dominance over instant messaging by one corporation create impermissible barriers to competition and the free exchange of ideas? If the extent to which instant messaging has penetrated the on-line world is as great as the record indicates, can America afford to leave its ownership in the hands of a single entity whose fiduciary obligation is to its shareholders and not to the public?
Another persistent question is whether the Commission should address the issue of open access or wait for an industry wide proceeding. These and other pressing questions will not be answered today. But we must answer them before we complete our merger review.
In closing, I am reminded of Winston Churchill's remarks during the Battle of Britain. When asked if Britain's goose was cooked, he remarked, "This isn't the end. This isn't even the beginning of the end. It is perhaps, the end of the beginning." If parties are right, we are entering the digital century. Maybe so. Specious limitations on this Commission's authority to protect and advance the public interest belong in the last century. Today marks a new beginning in our duty to protect the public interest through review of merger proposals such as the one before us.