AT&T still on hold

FCC delays its decision on ownership rules

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commissions has postponed a decision on its cable ownership rules for at least three weeks, giving AT&T more time to pressure the agency to loosen the current rules.

The telco giant wants the FCC to loosen its current cap, which limits companies to control of cable systems which pass 30% of U.S. households. According to the FCC’s calculations AT&T’s combined interest in MediaOne, Cablevision and Time Warner give it access to more than 50% of the country.

The FCC had planned to vote on the issue next week but postponed the vote under pressure from AT&T. The telco asked for the delay when it became clear that agency staffers were not sympathetic to their deregulatory arguments.

Agency staffers say they now expect the FCC to schedule a special meeting on the ownership issue no earlier than Oct. 8. It is possible that the meeting could slide even later.

In addition to its ownership rules, the FCC will decide how to treat one company’s minority investment in another company as it relates to ownership caps. For instance, under the current rule, AT&T is held accountable for 100% of the subscribers of another company if it holds as little as a 5% stake in another cabler. AT&T has made a vigorous argument at the FCC that the rules are unfair.

There is a very good reason that AT&T would like to see the so-called “attribution” rules changed. Through its acquisition of MediaOne, it would find itself with a 25% stake in Time Warner — which would saddle AT&T with an additional 12 million subscribers as far as the FCC’s ownership cap is concerned. AT&T says that is unfair because it will have no management or programming authority at Time Warner.