FCC puts brakes on AT&T/DirecTV, Comcast/TWC mergers
Michelle Clancy
| 23 October 2014
In an unprecedented move, the FCC has paused indefinitely its review of both the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger and the tie-up between DirecTV and AT&T.

The agency says the informal 180-day time clock for the review has been halted because content companies are blocking the ability of regulators and consultants to examine their business relationships with the pay-TV companies.

This is the second delay — earlier in the month the FCC extended the review period for the Comcast megamerger by three weeks, to 27 January, in a move that set some investors on edge.

In the latest development, third-party media companies have said that they will not allow their confidential carriage fee agreements with the four distributors be made available to the review board.

"We required potential reviewing parties to re-sign the acknowledgments required under the Joint Protective Orders and provided third parties a procedure by which they could object to certain individuals being permitted to review confidential information," the FCC explained in a statement.

After that, content companies filed objections "against every individual who sought to review highly confidential information".

Objecting parties include CBS, Discovery Communications, Scripps, Time Warner Inc, TV One, Twenty First Century Fox, Univision Communications, Viacom and the Walt Disney Company. All of them "reiterate[d] their objection to permitting any individual to access their highly confidential carriage agreements," the FCC said.

As such, the reviewers feel significantly hampered in their ability to evaluate both mergers.

Due to the squabbling, the merger reviews are on hold for an indeterminate amount of time. The commission said only that "after we rule on the objections, we will issue a public notice setting forth new pleading cycles that will provide sufficient time for commenters to review the relevant materials and prepare their comments".