The FCC restarted the clocks on both of the megamergers it is evaluating. Assuming no more stoppages, the Commission would have a decision in early March on whether or not to allow Comcast and Charter Communications to divvy up Time Warner Cable (TWC), and in late March on AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV.
The FCC has 180 days to evaluate mergers, but it suspended the process on both deals it is currently considering when it was stymied getting information from the companies involved that pertains to both deals.
The Comcast/TWC deal recommences on Day 85 of the process; the clock on the AT&T/DirecTV deal on day 70.
The problem that led to the clocks being suspended has not been solved, but the FCC plans to work around that for now. If the issue remains unresolved, the agency reserves the right to stop the clocks again.
Some opponents of the deals claim the two resulting companies will become so large that they will have unfair advantages when it comes to negotiating programming prices.
The FCC therefore wants to evaluate the retransmission contracts of several of the principals involved in the mergers, and has demanded to see their existing contracts with various programmers.
The number of individuals that would be privy to this information is believed to just exceed 100. A few of those would include third-party counsel to some of the principals.
Programmers have sued to keep those few people from seeing the information, claiming that pricing is a trade secret.
Legally, it appears unresolved whether pricing can be considered a “trade secrets.” The programmers involved with the FCC’s request for documents have the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on their side; that Court has issued a stay, supporting the programmers’ contention. In a relatively obscure case on the west coast, however, the Washington State Court of Appeals recently ruled that pricing cannot qualify as a trade secret.
Filed Under: Industry regulations