FCC presses pause on merger deals over secret filings

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has pressed pause on its “shot clock” for both of the major media mergers it is overseeing.

On Wednesday, the FCC’s media bureau said that it was pausing its informal 180-day deadline for reviewing the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and the AT&T-DirecTV mergers. The commission cited concerns about confidential documents detailing the companies’ business arrangements with media companies.

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Earlier this month, the FCC created a process for people to get access to those documents that allowed the content companies — such as CBS, Viacom and Walt Disney — to object. So far, the companies have objected to every single one of the dozens of outside attempts to view the documents, the FCC said.

On Monday, “a number of commenters” objected to the system, claiming that they need “reasonable access” to those documents to properly analyze the review.

“We agree with these commenters,” FCC media bureau chief William Lake said in an order, claiming that their inability to review the documents “significantly hampers their ability to meaningfully comment and participate in these proceedings.”

The agency is temporarily suspending its clock to issue a ruling on the content companies’ objections.

Companies on Wednesday said that the stoppage had nothing to do with the merits of their mergers.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement that it is “routine” for the FCC to "press pause" during major transactions.

"We are confident that the commission will quickly resolve these issues while continuing its work so that review will be completed in early 2015,” she added.

An AT&T spokesman echoed that the decision “has nothing to do with the merits of our deal or the information we’ve provided [the FCC] on the significant public interest benefits.”

“We’re confident in the FCC’s rigorous procedures for keeping information confidential and we’re ready to provide them with the information they have requested,” the spokesman added.

Both mergers are slightly less than halfway through the FCC’s 180-day review period.