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Sen. Heller Wants FCC Info On Ex Parte Exemptions

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) wants to know whether the FCC has been encouraging media companies to talk "in secret" with FCC staffers about their concerns with the Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV mergers.

Actually under the FCC's rules, there is a provision for exempting parties from ex parte filings detailing their meetings as a way to let folks talk without fear of retribution. But Heller is concerned that the bar not be set too low.

"I recognize and understand that the commission may need to grant such an exemption to a party under this scenario so that the FCC can obtain all the relevant factors...." he said. But the bar should be set high.

"When orders that have significant impact on the industry are crafted based on information provided in secret and go unchallenged, I believe it can undermine the effectiveness of that order."

Heller asked the FCC for information on any exempt ex parte presentations granted for either Comcast/TWC or AT&T/DirecTV, and if so, how many, and the justification for each.

He also wants to know the FCC's role in encouraging those filings.

"We don't know for sure how common such private meetings may be, precisely because they are secret," says veteran public interest communications attorney Andrew Schwartzman of the Institute for Public Representation. "However, public interest groups have long urged the Commission to employ this mechanism more frequently."