The FCC Wednesday stopped the clock on its review of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger review saying it needed more time to vet and for the public to comment on new arguments as to why the deal's "efficiencies" outweigh its "potential anticompetitive effects."
The FCC was on day 83 of its review per the informal 180-day shot clock it gives itself for completing merger reviews, though it has frequently exceeded that deadline.
The delay could be several weeks. The FCC said the new information will not be available to it in finalized version until July 25, and it will need time to evaluate it and for outside parties to comment on it.
"We appreciate your willingness to work with us to help us understand and evaluate your forthcoming submission. At the same time, however, given your express reliance on these new models, we have stopped the Commission's informal 180-day clock until we have the information required to evaluate these models," Wireless bureau chief Rick Kaplan wrote to AT&T's attorneys.
Even Democrats with concerns about the deal have asked for an expeditious review, but Kaplan suggested it was only fair to give the FCC and others time to understand the new material given that he said AT&T was now "expressly relying" on the new information to bolster its case for the merger.
"We believe this is necessary to allow sufficient time not only for the Commission to evaluate and test this new evidence, but also for third parties to have an opportunity to provide feedback to the Commission on the contents and construction of the yet-unseen models," he said.
The telco giant issued this comment about the FCC's call: "AT&T has developed additional economic evidence that further confirms the tremendous efficiencies and consumer benefits resulting from this transaction. Because this information, which we will submit next week, is detailed, we are not surprised that the FCC will take the time it needs to thoroughly understand our submission. We do not expect this will adversely impact the timeframe for approval of our transaction.
Clock stoppages are not unusual in merger vetting, particularly to review new information. The clock was stopped a couple of times in the Comcast/NBCU merger, for example, and it still managed to vet the deal in about a year, which had been the estimate from the outset by most deal watchers.
An AT&T source suggested the new information would be additional engineering and economic models buttressing its case for the deal.