FCC pauses clock on AT&T-DirecTV, Comcast-TWC merger reviews

By Reuters

Oct 23, 2014 05:07 AM EDT

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday paused its informal "shot clock" deadline on the reviews of the proposed mergers of AT&T Inc (T.N) and DirecTV (DTV.O) and of Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC.N) over the issue of confidential programming agreements.

The FCC, which will determine whether the deals are in the public interest, said it will pause its self-imposed, 180-day shot-clock deadline to decide how to handle highly confidential documents related to agreements with media companies.

The FCC's review of the $48.5 billion merger of wireless carrier AT&T and satellite TV provider DirecTV on Wednesday was in day 76 of the 180-day deadline. The review of the $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal earlier had been stopped at day 85.

The FCC is weighing how to resolve a hitch in collecting and reviewing agreements that pay-TV companies have signed with media companies, such as CBS Corp (CBS.N) and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O), to offer their content to subscribers.

Content companies have expressed concerns about sharing the details of such agreements with the FCC, saying the agency's filing process threatened the documents' high level of confidentiality and risked giving competitors insight into sensitive business arrangements.

The FCC is reviewing the deals alongside the Justice Department, whose antitrust review also includes such documents but is confidential.

The FCC has said that insight into carriage agreements was critical for some industry stakeholders to weigh in on the proposed mergers. Earlier this month, the agency created a new process for outside parties to seek access to highly confidential documents.

However, content companies have filed objections against every individual who had sought such access, the FCC said. It will now review the objections and decide whether or for how long to extend the comment period.

Comcast and AT&T spokespeople both underscored that it was common for the FCC to stop the clock on merger reviews and did not change the expected completion targets in 2015.

"The Commission is working to hear the concerns of various parties. In the meantime, review of information and evidence already in the docket will continue," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement.

AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said the stopped clock had nothing to do with the merits or public interest implications of the proposed deal with DirecTV.

"We're confident in the FCC's rigorous procedures for keeping information confidential and we're ready to provide them with the information they have requested," he said in a statement.

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