FCC Pauses Comcast-TW Cable, AT&T-DirecTV Merger Reviews

The FCC said that it was pausing its review of the proposed mergers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and AT&T with DirecTV, as it tries to resolve an issue over who can access confidential programming contracts.

The FCC’s action means that it will establish new dates for filing comments on the transactions.

The agency has kept a 180-day “shot clock” as it reviews the mergers. The Comcast-TW Cable timeclock was actually stopped earlier this month, on day 85, as the FCC sought more information from the company and gave more time for companies and groups to respond to a massive Comcast filing in September. The latest FCC order also puts a pause on the proposed AT&T and DirecTV transaction, stopped on day 76 of its review.

The reason for the pause is that content companies have raised objections to giving access to programming contracts to attorneys for potential rivals and other groups, said William Lake, chief of the FCC’s media bureau. Although those who seek such information must sign protective orders, companies such as CBS, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner, Scripps Networks Interactive, 21st Century Fox, Univision, Viacom, TVOne and Discovery have raised objections, arguing that the information risks getting in the hands of competitors.

Meanwhile, companies like Dish Network and organizations like the Writers Guild of America West say that they need access to such information in order to analyze the impact of the proposed mergers in their own comments. Lake wrote that the media bureau agreed that lack of access to the information “significantly hampers their ability to meaningfully comment and participate in these proceedings,” but he did not issue a decision on the content companies’ objections.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said that it was routine for the FCC to pause their review of significant transactions.

“In the meantime, review of information and evidence already in the docket will continue,” she said in a statement. “We are confident that the commission will quickly resolve these issues while continuing its works so that the review will be completed in early 2015.”

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