Fearing that broadcast media and other telecommunications outlets purchased by private equity concerns may be particularly vulnerable in the face of a U.S. economic slide, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps urged the FCC to launch an investigation into the “enormous influence” of private equity firms in the U.S. telecom market. Within the context of last week’s FCC open meeting at which the agency’s bureau chiefs reported on the implementation of the FCC’s strategic goals, Copps asserted that a report on the issue of private equity ownership should be added to the FCC’s agenda as “there is sufficient evidence in the macro economy to indicate there may be problems here and those problems may come into the telecommunications sector.” Declaring that current conditions are “eerily familiar” with those preceding the 1929 stock market crash, Copps urged his colleagues to support an inquiry that would examine the effect of an economic downturn—and resulting potential difficulties faced by heavily indebted private equity firms—upon telecom and media companies owned by private equity ventures. In calling for such a probe, Copps noted that the FCC has a tough job overseeing licensees that are purchased by leveraged buyout concerns as such firms, owing to their private ownership, are exempt from SEC reporting requirements. Copps, who recently cast the lone vote against the $1.2 billion sale of Clear Channel’s 56 television stations to Providence Equity Partners, warned further that the FCC’s attribution rules would be insufficient if the ownership of media and telecommunications assets held by private venture capital firms is not transparent. Voicing disagreement, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin proclaimed that the FCC’s ownership attribution rules are sufficient to address any private equity issues, arguing: “thus far, there is not any evidence that the Commission has seen that [private equity ownership] raises any particular or unique problems.” Commissioner Robert McDowell also took issue with Copps’ recommendations, declaring: “with the uncertainty in the financial markets, the last thing you need to be doing is making it harder to raise capital from private equity sources.”
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FCC commissioner urges probe into private equity impact on media and telecom markets
USA January 25 2008
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