The FCC has once again stopped the 180-day time clock on its review of the proposed mergers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and AT&T and DirecTV, citing a pending court ruling on access to confidential documents on dealmaking contracts that reveal programming terms.
The FCC was set to reach the end of the 180-day review period for the Comcast-TW Cable merger at the end of this month. Major media companies like CBS, the Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox are challenging the FCC’s plans to allow third parties to review programming contracts and other information as part of the merger review. Those third parties would still be bound by a protective order, although media companies say they fear that the information will be used in future rights negotiations.
The FCC has argued that the information is necessary to enable outside parties to give input on the proposed mergers.
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from the media companies and the FCC in February but has yet to issue a decision.
“At this time, we believe it is prudent to pause the informal 180-day transaction clocks because the commission would be advantaged by knowing the resolution of the pending [merger review] before the transaction clocks reach the 180-day mark, which both are slated to do by the end of March,” the FCC said.
Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said in a statement that even though the clock was stopped, “The FCC appears to be making significant progress in the review of our transaction in order to bring it to a conclusion. The comment cycle is complete, the economists have all weighed in, and the parties have all responded to the FCC’s requests for information.”
The Department of Justice also is reviewing the transactions, along with state attorneys general and, in California and New York, the respective public utilities commissions.
The FCC paused the Comcast-TW Cable review on Oct. 3 and stopped the clock on the AT&T-DirecTV review on Oct. 22 as it gathered additional information and gave more time for reply comments. The clock was restarted on Dec. 3.