FCC poised to start shot clock on Time Warner-Charter merger review

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The Federal Communications Commission is taking steps toward starting the "shot clock" on its review of the proposed merger between Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

In a vote Wednesday, the agency approved an item protecting the companies' confidential information during the review.

The protective order for the multi-billion dollar deal, which will provide guidelines on how confidential information must be handled, must still be finalized and released. Once the order is released, it will allow the commission to start the 180-day period for reviewing the transaction.

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The item also has the effect of setting up new procedures for handling confidential information in other merger reviews, a proposal that has drawn the ire of the body’s two Republican commissioners.

They have criticized the proposed order because they say the commission's majority used the context of the Charter deal to adopt new procedures for handling confidential information without public input.

“Unfortunately for everyone that will have to live with these new procedures, the majority could not resist the opportunity to use this merger application as a vehicle to enact sweeping policy changes, safely out of the spotlight of public scrutiny,” said Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in a statement.

O’Rielly panned the order as not doing enough to protect sensitive information from disclosure to other parties — including, he said, information not even relevant to the transaction under review.

“The practical effect of this item will be to expose sensitive details of business decisions made by content providers, programmers, and others to their competitors and potential partners,” O’Rielly said.

“The inevitable result will be a chilling impact on the creativity of productions and business dealings in a video programming industry that is already subject to a highly competitive and rapidly changing marketplace.”

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai dissented to the item in part and approved it in part, Multichannel News reported.

An FCC representative said the order was responsive to guidance issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in a review of how the agency handles confidential information. The representative said the order toed the line between allowing many parties to weigh in on mergers and respecting the confidentiality of some information.

Charter announced in May that it was planning to purchase Time Warner Cable and smaller provider Bright House Networks. The deals would make the company, which will be called New Charter, a more prominent force in the cable industry.