In an interview with Fox Business Network, Pai said the FCC will maintain an active role in the merger’s terms.
“We want to make sure that there's a competitive marketplace,” Pai said. “Any transaction that is presented to me, I will apply the test that the FCC has long applied. Is the consummation of this deal in the public interest and will consumers be better off? If there is an anti-competitive harm that is shown to me based on the evidence, then we'll take the appropriate action.”
The statement is one of Pai’s first on the high-profile merger between the two media and telecommunications companies. While Pai’s comment is relatively mild, it’s a noticeable change in language versus AT&T. In public appearances and interviews, AT&T has repeatedly expressed confidence that the deal will go through without issue.
During an interview with CNBC from early February, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company expects the merger to close by the end of the year.
“The filing has been made with the Department of Justice. The review is ongoing right now. There will not be a filing with the FCC. We're going to assume no licenses from Time Warner,” Stephenson told CNBC. “It will be a one-track review. The Department of Justice will review it and that's going at pace.”
After the $85.4 billion merger between the two conglomerates was announced last fall, AT&T and Time-Warner have earned scrutiny from officials ranging from Sen. Bernie Sanders to President Donald Trump. AT&T is one of the largest telecom companies in the country, while Time-Warner owns media properties like HBO and CNN.
Since taking over the FCC from former chairman Tom Wheeler in January, Pai’s approach to the FCC has been a work in progress. While Pai’s opposition towards regulation and initiatives like net neutrality are well-established — Pai said the FCC needed to take a “weed whacker” to Obama-era regulations in a December speech — the AT&T-Time Warner merger looks to be one of the Pai-run FCC’s major policy hurdles. The FCC’s thoroughness in oversight on the merger will be a strong sign towards how tough — or lightweight — Pai’s FCC will likely be towards the telecom industry.