FCC calls time out in DirecTV-AT&T, Comcast-TWC mergers

Citing disagreements over who has the right to see confidential carriage fee agreements, the Federal Communications Commission has paused its review of the proposed merger between AT&T and DirecTV as well as a pending deal between Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Chief among the worried parties? Content companies including CBS, Scripps Networks Interactive, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner, Twenty First Century Fox, Univision Communications, Viacom, Discovery Communications and TV One.

An FCC memo says, “various third parties (the ‘content companies’) filed objections against every individual who sought to review highly confidential information.”

The FCC said content companies have been adamant in their opposition to any (FCC emphasis) individual accessing their carriage agreements with the four operators, an objection that the commission originally had rejected.

On Oct. 15, the companies sought to block 62 individuals, identified as “outside counsel or outside experts for AT&T,” citing “longstanding objection to permitting any individual to access their highly confidential carriage agreements.”

On Oct. 16, they sought to block 108 additional individuals for the same reason, and on Oct. 20, the content companies objected to another 22 individuals for the same reason.

For its part, the FCC and other third-party commenters see those carriage agreements as critical to evaluating the mergers, agreeing that “analysis cannot be conducted, without reasonable access by both the FCC and outside counsel and experts not involved in competitive decision-making.”

The commission says blocking access “significantly hampers their ability to meaningfully comment and participate in these proceedings.

In the memo today, the FCC said it was “suspending the pleading cycles and stopping our 180-day informal time clock in both dockets,” adding that after it rules on the objections new pleading cycles, which allow “sufficient time for commenters to review the relevant materials” would be announced.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn