The Federal Communications Commission has once again stopped the clock on its review of the proposed mega-merger transactions involving Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, AT&T and DirecTV.
Creating its own form of March Madness, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it has paused the shot clock while awaiting a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court heard arguments on February 20 from both CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) and the FCC regarding the release of records from confidential programming contract negotiations. However, it has not yet ruled on whether those records can legally be shared with the FCC's extended merger review team.
From the FCC's public notice: "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 Petition for Review before the transaction clocks reach the 180-day mark, which both are slated to do by the end of March."
In its attempt to share contract documents with a team of experts, the FCC is trying to determine how the proposed mergers might affect the bargaining power of a larger Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)/Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) entity and a combined AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)/DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV). As an antitrust matter, the Commission wants to ensure that the service providers involved can't create an environment that stifles competition.
Most recently, the FCC requested new documents from several media companies that should show whether Comcast and Time Warner Cable used financial incentives in the past to gain leverage over online rivals. The question there is whether programmers were offered additional cash to keep them from licensing content to over-the-top distributors. (See FCC Demands Details on Cable Licensing Deals.)
Meanwhile, the stopping of the merger review clock is just the latest in a string of setbacks for the proposed mega-mergers. While the deals were originally expected to close in late 2014 or early 2015, there are now serious doubts about whether the transactions will ultimately get regulatory approval. (See DC Insiders Handicap Cable's Big Merger .)
Comcast continues to remain optimistic. In a statement, the company said that "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 responded to all of the FCC's Requests for Information. We look forward to working with the government to complete the regulatory review process."
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading