Comcast, TWC Object to Disclosure of Merger Details to Lobbyist, Citing ‘Bad Precedent'

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By Lydia Beyoud

Sept. 23 — Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. objected to a lobbyist's application for access to confidential information related to the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, according to a Sept. 22 filing.

The companies said that allowing John Vezina, political director for the Writers Guild of America, West, to access confidential information would “constitute an invitation for almost any employee of any Participant of an arguably ‘non-commercial' nature to obtain access to Applicants' most sensitive business information,” according to a Federal Communications Commission filingpublished Sept. 22.

Vezina is involved in lobbying and other political activities on behalf of the organization and its political action committee, according to the filing.

WGAW is one of many parties opposed to the proposed merger proceeding (MB Docket 14-57), whose comment period closes at midnight Sept. 23.

The companies also cited ambiguity around what other qualifications Vezina had to meet for the levels of confidentiality accorded by the FCC in merger proceedings, such as being of inside or outside counsel, a consultant not involved in competitive decision-making or an expert consultant.

On Sept. 18, WGAW withdrew Vezina's Sept. 8 application for access to confidential information, according to another FCC-issued filing Sept. 22.

A WGAW spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

Retransmission Consent Agreements

The main parties in the proposed merger aren't the only ones concerned about the disclosure of sensitive business information.

Multiple television broadcasters wrote to the FCC on Sept. 11 with concerns that the agency's request for information from TWC and Comcast would disclose unredacted information to outside counsels.

The filing references disclosure of retransmission consent agreements as one of their concerns.

“Given the large number of parties to this proceeding, we have many concerns about the potential widespread dissemination of these extremely competitively sensitive documents, even if only among outside counsel,” the filing said.

The broadcasters urged the FCC to review confidential material in Comcast's $45 billion bid for TWC in consultation with the Department of Justice.

Bargaining Power

Opponents of the deal have warned that a combination of the nation's top two cable companies would provide the merged entity with greater bargaining power against other pay-TV providers in the lucrative regional sports network (RSN) market.

A post-merger Comcast would control 27 of the nation's 61 largest RSNs and have a dominant position as both a provider of RSNs and as a multi-channel video programming distributor (MVPD), several parties said in filings at the commission.

That dominant market power in the sports programming marketplace would enable Comcast to withhold rival RSN content, increase licensing and subscription fees for its own RSNs and refuse cable carriage of unaffiliated RSNs, stakeholders said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com