FCC unveils teams to review multibillion Comcast, AT&T mergers

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Monday the teams it has assembled to review the proposed $45 billion deal to combine Comcast and Time Warner Cable and the proposed $49 billion deal to combine AT&T and DirecTV.

Critics of the two proposed multibillion-dollar mergers have pressure the FCC to review the deals closely, including for concerns about monopolistic powers and growing industry consolidation.

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Comcast has defended its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, repeatedly noting that the two cable and Internet giants do not currently overlap in any markets, meaning no consumer will lose a competitor through the transaction.

AT&T has defended its proposed merger with DirecTV by saying the two companies would be able to bundle services in new ways — DirecTV has no broadband offerings, while AT&T’s video footprint is small — and offer video content across multiple screens.

The two mergers will be reviewed by separate teams reporting to a single steering committee, the agency said Monday.

That steering committee will include FCC General Counsel Jonathan Sallet as well as the chiefs of the Media, International, Wireless and Wireline Competition Bureaus, the FCC said.

Former Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust lawyer Hillary Burchuk will lead the team reviewing the Comcast deal, which will also include the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Bill Dever.

Jamilla Ferris, also a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer, will join the agency from private practice to lead the team reviewing the AT&T deal, which will also include Elizabeth Andrion from the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis.

Former FCC Chief Economist William Rogerson will serve as senior economist for the two mergers, and Northwestern University professor Shane Greenstein will serve as senior economic consultant.

Harold Feld — senior vice president at Public Knowledge, which has challenged the deals — said the announced teams indicate “the FCC wants to look at this with a fresh approach.”

He noted the presence of Wireline Competition Bureau personnel, pointing to “an eye on the impact on broadband, rather than from the traditional starting point of viewing these transactions as primarily about media competition.”

Feld also cited the Justice Department experience represented on the teams, which he said will help insulate the agency if critics accuse the FCC of trying to use the mergers to accomplish regulatory goals.

“By doubling down on experts with traditional DOJ backgrounds, the agency can defend itself against accusations that it is straying outside the lines of traditional statutory review, even for the agency's broader public interest standard,” he said.