Media Access Project has asked the Federal Communications Commission to extend its deadlines for petitions to deny, comments and reply comments on the proposed Comcast/NBC Universal merger.
The group says that the combination of its focus on the broadband plan, a host of other comment dealines in FCC proceedings, and the fact that a key Comcast economic document did not become available for partial inspection until only a few days ago led to the request, which is termed a "prayer for relief."
The FCC officially started its 180-day shot clock on the merger review March 18, when it gave commenters until May 3 to file petitions, June 2 to file petitions to deny and June 17 to file responses to those comments and petitions.
MAP wants a 45-day extension on all the deadlines, so that the new dates would be June 17, July 16, and August 1, respectively.
In a request for the extension dated today (March 22), MAP said it was filing for itself, but said it had consulted with more than a dozen groups, including "public interest, carrier, satellite, labor, and programmers" who backed the request:"The principal basis for this request is that the Commission has established an unusually large number of filing deadlines in important proceedings over the next two months, and it is impossible for affected organizations to participate in those proceedings while also preparing the detailed submissions necessary to assist the Commission in resolving this complex and extremely important matter."
MAP conceded that the FCC's comment period was already longer -- actually twice as long -- as the typical 45 days, but said that it was "nonetheless too rapid a schedule to allow creation of a full record."
MAP cited a host of comment deadlines it is has to juggle, including network neutrality on April 8; retransmission- consent on April 19 (reply comments May 4); the Future of Media inquiry by May 7; and FCC ex parte and procedural rule reforms, with deadlines in mid-May.
The added time is also needed to make sure MAP and others get all their ducks -- or peacocks, as it were -- in a row given that the FCC has made it clear it will not entertain new arguments in ex parte communications outside the initial pleadings.
"The need for additional time is especially important in this proceeding because the Commission has taken the unusual -- and highly laudable -- step of warning affected parties that all relevant arguments in this proceeding must be presented during the pleadings phase and that the Commission will not tolerate introduction of new issues by means of ex parte presentations," wrote MAP president Andrew Schwartzman. "This makes it all the harder to prepare and submit complete oppositions within the filing deadline."
An Aug. 1 deadline would then give the FCC a little over six weeks to decide on the merger if it wanted to beat the shot clock. But the clock is not binding and the FCC under then chairman Kevin Martin frequently exceeded that limit. For example, when Comcast and Time Warner split up Adelphia, the FCC took 404 days to OK the deal.