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FCC Shutdown Could Delay Sprint-T-Mobile Merger Decision

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shut down most operations Thursday as the Trump administration’s government shutdown drags on.

The shutdown could impact the FCC’s review of the highly anticipated and controversial $26 billion merger of telecom giants T-Mobile and Sprint. The commission is on day 84 of its 180-day timeline for review.

Drinker, Biddle & Reath's Laura Phillips

Drinker, Biddle & Reath’s Laura Phillips

The informal time clocks will be restarted on the business day following the day of return to normal operations, according to the FCC.

Work required for the “protection of life and property” will continue, as will any work related to spectrum auctions, which is funded by auction proceeds, according to the commission. In addition, the Office of the Inspector General will continue operations until further notice.

Laura Phillips, a telecom lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath, said the effect of an FCC shutdown depends somewhat on the length of the funding impasse.

“But for companies with projects that rely on FCC licensing, it will have a very immediate effect on their business,” she said. “If the shutdown is extended, the backlog on licensing is going to really be an issue for some.”

The agency’s next public meeting, set for Jan. 30, also could be delayed.

“Without agency staff having time to prepare for the meeting, there would be a postponement in resolving matters of public significance, such as the FCC’s response to the D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion in ACA International, an important case which concerns how the agency interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act,” she said. “Also, major transactions, such as the pending T-Mobile-Sprint merger, may take longer for the agency to review.”

Unlike the 2013 shutdown, when much of the FCC’s website searchable features were taken offline, the commission said that some frequently consulted databases, such as the network-outage reporting system and the electronic comment filing system, among others, will be accessible, although not updated.

“While this is of some relief to FCC practitioners, who can count on having the ability to consult historical information during the shutdown, no new information will be entered, with the exception of ongoing spectrum auction matters,” Phillips said.

Some FCC systems that affect a range of entities will be frozen, including those that upload applications for equipment authorizations for communications devices and equipment. The FCC said filings normally due at the agency are suspended until the agency reopens.

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