FCC commissioner shoots down ‘absurd’ claim that the federal government can block Musk’s Twitter purchase

Brendan Carr, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), rejected a left-leaning organization’s claim that the FCC has the authority to block Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, in part because Musk also owns Starlink.

After Twitter accepted Musk’s $44 billion offer Monday, the Open Markets Institute warned that the deal represents a threat to “American democracy and free speech,” suggested the deal is illegal, and argued that the federal government has the power to block it.

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“The Open Markets Institute believes the deal poses a number of immediate and direct threats to American democracy and free speech,” OMI Director Barry Lynn said in a statement. “Open Markets also believes the deal violates existing law, and that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have ample authority to block it.”

Twitter headquarters is seen in San Francisco, California, on Oct. 27, 2021. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via / Getty Images)

Lynn noted that “the deal would give to a single man – one who already wields immense political and economic power – direct control over one of world’s most important platforms for public communications and debate.”

Citing Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, the Telegraph Acts of 1860 and 1866, the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910, and the Communications Act of 1934, the OMI director claimed that “the American people have an absolute right to ensure the full openness and neutrality of all essential public infrastructure.” He also noted that the U.S. government has used anti-trust law in the communications sphere.

“Mr. Musk already controls one of the most important internet platforms in the world – in the form of the satellite communications system Starlink,” Lynn noted. “Since the late 19th Century, the U.S. government has routinely acted to prevent mergers between existing essential platforms. … This means that just as we would now expect the U.S. government to block a takeover of Twitter by Google, Facebook, Comcast, or Verizon, the same rules apply to the owners of Starlink.”

Elon Musk

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay on Feb. 7, 2021. (Mariana Suarez/AFP via / Getty Images)

Lynn ended the letter by encouraging the federal government not just to block Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, but to regulate Facebook, Google, and Amazon by firmly reestablishing “clear bans on any manipulation of communications by essential platforms, and to eliminate all business models that rely on such manipulation.”

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Brendan Carr, a Trump-appointed FCC commissioner, shot down Lynn’s claim as “absurd.”

“The FCC has no authority to block Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and to suggest otherwise is absurd,” Carr said in a statement Wednesday. “I would welcome the full FCC making it clear that we will not entertain these types of frivolous arguments.” 

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, Dec. 5, 2019.  (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

“It does not surprise me to see that some interest groups are planning on throwing the kitchen sink at this transaction in an effort to derail it,” Carr added in a statement to FOX Business. 

“Of course, the FCC has no authority to block this transaction. And while I am not in a position to speak for the DOJ or the FTC — the other agencies that were identified in that Open Markets Institute release — I am not aware of any basis upon which any federal agency can block it,” he said. “But I defer to those agencies to speak to the scope of their authorities.” 

“Suffice [it] to say, it is far from clear that the groups objecting to this transaction are going to do so because they’re interested in the neutral application of competition and antitrust laws — these efforts look like a move motivated by a desire to prevent the free exchange of political views on Twitter,” Carr concluded.

Carr has previously expressed optimism about the Musk acquisition of Twitter.

“I’m hopeful that Elon Musk is going to bend Twitter’s content moderation towards a greater embrace of free speech,” Carr said on FOX Business earlier this week.

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Tesla, the Department of Justice, and the FTC did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ after-hours requests for comment.