FCC Puts Together Committees to Scrutinize TWC-Comcast and AT&T-DirecTV Mergers

Anyone against the proposed mergers between Time Warner Cable and Comcast and AT&T and DirecTV should take some solace in the fact that some of the members of several review committees the Federal Communications Commission has put together will not be giving either merger a rubber stamp approval.

According to Ars Technica, William Rogerson, a professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Northwestern University, has been named to the group as the senior economist dealing with both the proposed Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV mergers. Rogerson, a former FCC chief economist in 1998 and 1999, is known for his 2010 warning that Comcast's purchase of NBC would "cause significant competitive harms." That merger was ultimately approved, with some conditions.

The FCC has appointed US Department of Justice attorney Hillary Burchuk to head up the team reviewing the Comcast/TWC merger, which would also shift some subscribers to Charter. In 2011, Burchuk was one of several attorneys representing the DOJ in a lawsuit that ultimately blocked AT&T's planned purchase of T-Mobile US.

Former DOJ antitrust lawyer Jamillia Ferris will lead the working team reviewing the proposed AT&T/DirecTV merger and will also join the FCC's Office of General Counsel. Ferris was at the DOJ when it blocked the AT&T/T-Mobile merger but was not involved in the lawsuit.

FCC General Counsel Jonathan Sallet will chair a steering committee that will oversee both the Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV transactions. Sallet previously served as chief policy counsel for MCI WorldCom and an official at the Department of Commerce.

Sallet spoke about the FCC's approach to mergers in March, saying, "I am aware of the reputation that some attribute to the FCC, that the answer is always 'yes' and the path to 'yes' is bargaining with the agency. It is hard to imagine that such a view can be squared with the manner in which the commission assiduously applied the law to the facts of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile transaction."

The FCC's opposition to AT&T/T-Mobile, in addition to the DOJ objections, helped doom that deal.

Sallet also spoke favorably of conditions the FCC imposed on mergers such as Comcast/NBC in the past.

"Our conditions and divestitures on mergers like Comcast/NBC allow us to remedy potential anticompetitive harms that DOJ would have difficulty addressing," he said.

If anything these individuals will strongly scrutinize both deals and at the very least make them conditional. No doubt net neutrality rules will come into play as well – particularly with the Comcast-TWC merger.

Source: Ars Technica

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