FCC Stops Comcast-NBCU Shot Clock Again

The FCC is stopping the shot clock on the Comcast-NBC Universal
merger for a second time. Thursday, June 24, had been day 50 on what is
an informal 180-day deadline for vetting the deal. The review began
March 18.

The commission says that the companies returned
incomplete answers and did not follow the directions in responding to a
May FCC request for a raft of information from both on everything from
organizational structure and channel lineups to copies of all
programming agreements and detailed discussions of all deliberations in
making content available online.

The commission sent letters to
the two Thursday, informing them that the FCC would put the brakes on
vetting the merger until such time as they had complied fully.

first stoppage came April 16 (after only 29 days) so that the companies
could supply FCC-solicited reports on the economic benefits of the deal
and one on its impact on online content distribution. The commission
also gave commenters a chance to weigh the impact, if any, of the April 6
BitTorrent decision that called into question the FCC's ability to
regulate broadband. The clock was re-started June 3.

Some groups
had complained that the companies data drops were not in an easily
readable form and asked the commission to move its June 21 comment
deadline. But the commission last week declined to do so, saying that if
that data raised new issues that needed to be addressed, they could
seek a "good cause" exemption to the FCC's instructions that all issues
must be addressed in the comments or petitions to deny that were due
June 21.

In separate letters to Comcast and NBCU, Media
Bureau Chief Bill Lake said that after its review of the material
submitted June 11, the FCC had concluded that the companies "[have] not
fully complied with the instructions supplied with the Information
Request... In light of the foregoing, we have directed NBCU to review,
revise and supplement its responses and associated materials, as
necessary, to correct these and any other deficiencies that it uncovers
as a result of this review, and submit those responses and associated
materials, as so revised and supplemented."

And while the FCC's
own timeclock for reviewing the merger Thursday still said June 24 was
day 50, Lake said the commission was turning back the clock. "Until such
time as NBCU submits these materials," he said, and Comcast has made a
similar filing, "the transaction timeclock in this proceeding shall
remain paused as of June 11, 2010, the date on which NBCU's response was
initially due."

"There were technical issues with the
submission," said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, "and we will
resubmit the information as requested as soon as possible."

stoppage does not affect the pleading cycle, which means that the next
round of comments are due July 21 and the replies Aug. 5.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.