AT&T rings up FCC for new call on stake

Move follows March 2 judicial edict

WASHINGTON — Boosted by a recent court ruling declaring that cable companies should be able to wire up as many customers as they want, AT&T has officially asked the Federal Communications Commission to suspend the May 19 deadline for selling off its stake in Time Warner Entertainment.

The FCC had ordered AT&T to shed its 25% stake in TWE in exchange for being allowed to merge with MediaOne.

Otherwise, the merger would push AT&T over a cap forbidding any one cabler from reaching more than 30% of the national market. TWE includes cable assets and Warner Bros.

On March 2, though, a federal appeals court struck down the ownership cap as unconstitutional.

Last week, AT&T execs met with FCC cable staffers to discuss putting off the May 19 deadline in light of the judicial edict.

“Specifically, AT&T suggested that the commission should suspend the deadlines for AT&T’s compliance steps, as prescribed in the merger order, pending further action by the commission in light of the court’s decision,” AT&T veep for governmental affairs Betsy Brady said in a March 9 letter to the FCC.

Letter was made available to reporters Monday.

FCC chair Michael Powell has already acknowledged that the court’s ruling will result in a re-examination of the AT&T-TWE order.

AT&T has resisted selling off TWE, saying that AOL Time Warner — which owns the remaining 75% — is not putting forth a fair price.

The giant telco has floated the idea of spinning off Liberty Media instead, but only if the sale is awarded a favorable tax ruling by the IRS.

AT&T is the country’s largest cable operator.

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