It's Official: Merger Clocks Restart

FCC to Make Some Non-Programming Contract Materials Available to Third Parties Immediately

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission has officially restarted the clock on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV merger deals.

In a public notice issued Wednesday (Dec. 3), the FCC said that it would restarting the review process on both deals now that a court had granted expedited hearing to a challenge by programmers of the viewing of programming contracts (“video programming confidential information,” or VPCI) by third parties.

The clocks were stopped, as well as the pleading cycles for the deals, after that third-party access was challenged.

But the FCC is allowing third-party access to other confidential information starting immediately, and has restarted the informal 180-day shot clocks on both deals.

The clock on the merger of Comcast and TWC — the No. 1 and No. 2 U.S. cable providers, respectively — is restarting at day 85, which is where it stopped. The clock on the merger of telco AT&T and satellite-TV provider DirecTV is being set back six days. It stopped at day 76, but the agency will restart it on day 70, from the day of an AT&T-DirecTV filing.

“Under the highly unusual circumstances presented here — specifically, the need to move forward expeditiously while the court considers whether Video Programming Confidential Information may be reviewed under the protective orders and the lack of any objections to these individuals reviewing any other Highly Confidential Information — we find no reason why the individuals listed in the Appendix should not be permitted access under the Modified Joint Protective Orders, as amended, to that Highly Confidential Information that is not also Video Programming Confidential Information and subject to the stay,” FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake said in announcing the clock’s restart.

With the new pleading cycle, the deadline for replies to opposition to the Comcast-TWC will change to Dec. 23 from Oct. 22. That will have lawyers for the companies working right up to the holidays. The new replies deadline for AT&T-DirecTV will move to Jan. 7, 2015, from Nov. 5.

When the court determines whether the VPCI can be made available, the FCC said, it may need to further adjust pleading requirements and the shot clocks to allow time for review and comment on those materials. The FCC would then need to review those comments, which could push the merger review deeper into 2015.