FCC to Restart Clock on Mergers

Move on Comcast-TWC, AT&T-DirecTV Could Come Today
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WASHINGTON — Look for the Federal Communications Commission to restart its merger clocks on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV deals this week, perhaps as early as today (Dec. 3).

The FCC stopped the informal 180-day shot clocks on vetting the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV mergers on Oct. 22 (the Comcast-TWC review had already been stopped Oct. 3 related to another matter) while it resolved issues surrounding third-party access to competitively sensitive contracts with programmers.

The review of the merger of No. 1 U.S. cable operator Comcast and No. 2 MSO Time Warner Cable  is in its 85th day, while the review of telco AT&T’s acquisition of satellite-TV provider DirecTV has reached day 76.

The FCC has sometimes taken far more than the 180 days — the vetting of Comcast’s acquisition of programmer NBCUniversal took 234 days, for example — but it gives the agency a target, and going too far past that can start to generate some pressure from Capitol Hill.

The program contract issue is not yet resolved after a federal court stayed an FCC decision to make those contracts available to third parties. But even though the FCC signaled that court challenge — made by programmers, including broadcasters — could hold up the vetting process, it also signaled that it needed to restart the clocks.

An FCC source speaking on background confirmed that the clocks would be restarting this week.

All sides have pushed for an expedited briefing schedule to the FCC's stayed order.