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On day before FCC funds run out, Trump warns shutdown could last "a long time"

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On day before FCC funds run out, Trump warns shutdown could last "a long time"

President Donald Trump told reporters on Jan. 2 that the partial government shutdown could last "a long time," a move that would disrupt and suspend operations at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC said Jan. 2 that should the shutdown persist, the agency would suspend most operations by the middle of the day on Jan. 3. This includes pausing the shot clock on its review of the proposed merger between T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. As of Jan. 2, the commission is on day 84 of its 180-day informal timeline to review the transaction.

According to the commission, "The individual time clock for each pending transaction is stopped on the day of review that coincides with the last full business day before the lapse in funding, January 2, 2019. The informal time clocks will be restarted on the business day following the day of return to normal operations."

The agency will also pause comment periods on proposed rules. One open proceeding that could be impacted is the commission's quadrennial review of some broadcast ownership rules.

However, the agency did say in its news release that "ongoing work related to spectrum auction activities" would continue, including the 600 MHz spectrum auction repacking process. As part of that process, the FCC is clearing spectrum previously held by broadcasters and repacking stations into remaining TV bands below Channel 37.

In addition to auction-related activities, the FCC will also continue work on "matters necessary for the protection of life and property."

Looking at other federal agencies, funds for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission expired at the end of the day on Dec. 28, 2018. As a result of the funding lapse, the agency will be forced to suspend its probe into whether Facebook Inc. violated a 2011 consent order on privacy practices, David Vladeck, former director of the agency's consumer protection bureau, recently told The Washington Post.

In a Dec. 28, 2018, announcement about the lapse in funding, the agency said its National Do Not Call Registry for both consumers and telemarketers will be closed, in addition to its consumer complaint assistant, among other resources.

Additionally, according to a plan on the agency's Office of Executive Director website, "all non-merger investigations will be suspended during the pendency of a shutdown."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which in December 2018 heard oral arguments in the U.S. Department of Justice's appeal of the AT&T Inc./Time Warner Inc. merger, says on its website that "the Judiciary is prepared to use non-appropriated fees to keep the courts running until Jan. 11, 2019." Once that funding expires, it warns, the federal courts "face serious disruptions."

When the court heard the DOJ's appeal Dec. 6, 2018, the three-judge panel expressed skepticism that a lower court judge had made a "clear error" in allowing the merger to go through.

AT&T has agreed to keep the Turner cable networks it acquired from Time Warner in a separate business unit until Feb. 28, while the appeal plays out.

On July 18, 2018, the DOJ filed a motion to expedite its appeal, citing the February AT&T-Turner unification as a reason to decide on the appeal sooner.

"Although Defendants have agreed to hold part of Time Warner — the Turner networks — separate from AT&T, that will last only until Feb. 28, 2019," wrote the DOJ in its motion. "If the appeal is not decided by then, AT&T immediately can be expected to exercise the increased bargaining leverage that it would gain from control of Turner. This leverage likely would impact negotiations for Turner's contracts with AT&T's rival distributors that are expiring in 2018 and 2019."