FCC Begins Countdown on Time Warner, Charter Merger

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Source: thinkstock
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday published its protective orders (guidelines) for how sensitive documents related to the proposed merger of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Charter Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: CHTR) will be shared during the agency’s review of the merger. That started the clock running on the comment cycle, which will now be due by October 13.

In its protective order the FCC said:

While we are mindful of the sensitive nature of some of the information involved, we are also mindful of the general right of the public, and our desire for the public, to participate in this proceeding in a meaningful way. We find that allowing limited access to competitively sensitive materials pursuant to the procedures set forth in the attached Protective Order allows the public (through appropriate representatives) to do so while also protecting competitively sensitive information from improper disclosure and use.

The FCC had voted two weeks before to approve the order, but the delay in publishing was caused by a desire to incorporate dissenting comments from the lone Republican appointee to the commission. According to Multichannel News, Ajit Pai, the Republican commissioner, had objections including:

[T]he Commission sees another chance to give outside parties a sneak peek at confidential programming agreements. This Order is obviously the first step in the Commission’s misguided effort to do so. …

It substantially revises the FCC’s policies regarding the treatment of confidential commercial information in all types of Commission proceedings,” he said. “And it changes not only the Commission’s policy on disclosing confidential information pursuant to a protective order, but also the Commission’s approach to the release of such information to the general public. To put it another way, in order to set the stage for disclosing highly confidential programming contracts to parties with whom programmers must negotiate distribution agreements, the Commission is prepared to inflict a large amount of collateral damage along the way.

The FCC’s general counsel said in a blog post that “the protective order procedures ensure that any objecting programmers have ample opportunities to protect their interests before any information is made available under the protective order.”

Don’t touch that dial.

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