FCC puts AT&T and Comcast gobbles back on the table

Deadlines set for merger decisions after commission restarts clock

The FCC has restarted the approval process for a pair of high-profile proposed mergers – Comcast-Time Warner Cable, and AT&T-DirecTV.

The US watchdog said it has officially set two deadlines for folks sending in their views on the biz gobbles. In the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable (TWC) tie-up, citizens will have until December 23 to submit their comments. For the AT&T acquisition of satellite provider DirecTV, the deadline will be pushed back to January 7.

The two deals were given comment deadlines of October 8 and November 5, respectively, but the FCC paused both mergers in October to get a better look at the financial details of the dealings between the companies.

While today's move in no way guarantees that the FCC will approve either of the proposed mergers, restarting the clock will at least bring both of the deals closer to resolution one way or another.

"We will continue to work with the FCC to complete its review of the transaction in the first quarter of 2015," Comcast said of the move and its plan to acquire TWC.

The proposed deals have both drawn opposition from industry groups and rivals who have argued that the deals would give the acquiring companies far too much control over huge markets in the US.

Stop Mega Comcast, a lobbying effort backed by TV carrier Dish, among others, noted that the Comcast-TWC merger would further the holdings of a cable company that is already the largest in the US.

"Allowing a single company to dominate 50 per cent of our nation’s broadband wires is not only a recipe for disaster, but it also runs counter to our antitrust and communications laws," said coalition member and Public Knowledge CEO Gene Kimmelman.

"The FCC and DOJ should unequivocally reject this merger."

Comcast, meanwhile, has defended the deal by claiming that it does not compete in markets with TWC, and as such users would not lose choice in broadband ISP should the deal go through.

"We understand the questions and concerns that arise any time two big companies merge. But as even our opponents concede, Comcast and Time Warner Cable do not currently compete for customers anywhere in America," the cable giant said.

"That means that if the proposed transaction goes through, consumers will not lose a choice of cable companies. Consumers will not lose a choice of broadband providers. And not a single market will see a reduction in competition."

The claim of no competition may not be so strong, however. Consumerist has spotted an early version of the Comcast statement that suggests the cable company is still figuring out whether any customers would lose a choice in internet provider. ®

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