FCC Approves $1.1B Liberty-GCI Deal

Agency says merger is in public interest, applies no conditions

The FCC has approved the $1.1 billion deal by John Malone’s Liberty Interactive to buy Alaskan cable and phone company General Communication Inc. (GCI).

The Justice Department signaled last July it had no antitrust issues with the deal.

GCI has about 108,000 cable sub in Alaska and is the state’s largest telephone and wireless company.

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The FCC imposed no conditions in granting the application, saying it posed no potential harms to the public interest. In the same order it denied the petitions to deny or condition the deal.

The FCC said the harm asserted in those petitions was speculative and the conditions proposed unrelated to the transaction.

FCC chair Ajit Pai has signaled that regulation by deal condition is off the table under his watch.

"[W]e are not persuaded by petitioners’ claims that the proposed transaction will make GCI more capable of and more inclined to engage in anti-competitive behavior in Alaska," the FCC said.

Four agency bureaus -- Media, Wireless Telecommunications, Wireline Competition and International -- collectively granted the application.

"GCI serves Alaska as an incumbent LEC in small rural areas and elsewhere as a competitive LEC, and the Liberty entities do not provide any services in Alaska," they said. "Rather than eliminating a potential competitor from the marketplace or combining adjacent entities in a manner that increases their ability to resist third-party competition, or to engage in any of the specific practices that the commission was concerned about in the Ameritech-SBS Order, the instant transaction results in GCI becoming part of a diversified."

As to conditions proposed by the petitioners to deny, the bureaus said they were "services and facilities disputes that they had with GCI prior to the announcement of the proposed transaction," which should be dealt with separately in complaints or by the Enforcement Bureau.

"[T]he commission has been clear that transactions are not the appropriate vehicle to resolve issues that are pre-existing or do not result from the transaction itself," the FCC said.