May 18, 2017 Last Updated 1:06 pm

FCC votes to begin process of killing off net neutrality, also votes to launch review of existing media regulations

The Federal Communications Commission appears ready to end the practice of closely monitoring media mergers and acquisitions, setting the stage for more media consolidation

The Federal Communications Commission today voted 2-1 to begin the process of lifting Title II broadband classification for ISPs, in effect killing off net neutrality.

Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by Donald Trump and the former Associate General Counsel at Verizon, along with Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, voted in favor of the notice. Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn cast the dissenting vote.

The FCC also issued a Public Notice that begins a review of rules regarding the media, with the commission’s chairman again wanting to roll back rules that govern whether media companies can acquire other media properties in the same market. Again, the vote was 2-1.

Reaction to the FCC net neutrality vote was swift, and along party lines.

“The FCC’s love affair with a few large ISP’s is going to be a heartbreaker for consumers, small businesses and streaming services,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS, the internet and competitive networks association. “Today’s vote continues pushing the internet down a dangerous path, one that threatens both freedom of expression and free markets.”

Judicial Watch, that is in the business of filing Freedom of Information Act lawsuits in order to find dirt on opponents of the Trump administration, today filed an FOIA lawsuit seeking records on the Obama White House’s influence in FCC decisions regarding reclassification of ISPs as Title II.

The current make-up of the FCC will lend itself to a flood of possible media mergers that might have been curtailed under the Obama administration, but are likely to be approved under the Trump administration.

Just this week the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, tronc, announced that it intends to acquire its longtime rival, the Chicago Sun-Times. In order to facilitate quick approval for the acquisition, the Sun-Times agreed to run a notice in its Tuesday edition announcing the possible sale, but also inviting any other bidders to step forward. Should any other buyer be interested, they would only have until the end of the month to do due diligence and present a bid — a time frame so short that it is hard to imagine that the FCC previously would have agreed to such a scheme.

Early last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the acquisition of the Orange County Register by Tribune Publishing (now named tronc), the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. With the sale halted, the Register ended up being acquired by MediaNews Group (Digital First Media) through the bankruptcy proceedings. Had the acquisition taken place today, it is unlikely that the Trump administration agencies would have taken any action.

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