Sources: AT&T/DirecTV Approval Circulated

Sources familiar with the process confirmed that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday circulated an order approving the AT&T/DirecTV merger.

The move was not unexpected, with most handicappers looking for the past few weeks for approval with numerous conditions.

It would still have to be voted by the other commissioners, but it is unlikely to be circulated unless the chairman has the votes. The FCC and Justice Department coordinate their merger reviews, so that means Justice, which has completed its review, will not sue to block it.

"We are pleased the Department of Justice has completed its review of our acquisition of DIRECTV," AT&T said in a statement. "We look forward to gaining the approval of the Federal Communications Commission so we can quickly begin providing consumers with the benefits of this combination."

An FCC spokesperson declined comment.

"Kudos to the FCC for finally releasing AT&T from regulatory purgatory," said Adonis Hoffman, chairman of Business in the Public Interest and former chief of staff to commissioners Mignon Clyburn. "The reported conditions will augur well for consumers, although the $100 million penalty still looks like ransom no matter how it is packaged."

The FCC last month proposed a $100 million fine against AT&T related to its unlimited mobile plans.

The word in late June was that the $48.5 billion merger between telco/video provider AT&T and satellite-TV provider DirecTV would get the green light, with negotiations over deal conditions ultimately extending longer than some had expected.

The deal never drew the kind of all-out pushback in Washington that the scrapped combination of Comcast, the No. 1 U.S. cable provider, and second-ranked TWC did.

Interconnection, and complaints from backbone providers about negotiations with ISPs, is a big issue at the FCC, which made those matters part of the new net-neutrality rules. But AT&T has been striking interconnection deals lately with providers including Level 3, and Cogent.

And AT&T was even signaling some support for the FCC’s case-by-case approach to interconnection complaints, something the other ISPs that have challenged the rules in court have panned. “[T]he commission has established the mechanism for dealing with any legitimate interconnection issues that might arise,” AT&T said in arguing that an interconnection condition was unnecessary.

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.