Wheeler Has Three Votes for Charter/TWC Protective Orders

An FCC source confirms that there are now three "yes" votes, all Democratic, for the protective orders that determine how the FCC will treat confidential information submitted by parties proposing mergers. The orders are specific to Charter/TWC, but also are responsive to a court remand of an FCC decision in the Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV mergers to provide access to program contract information, including e-mails and other work product, to hundreds of outside parties.

According to FCC and industry sources, the orders allow for broad third-party access to the contracts, essentially providing the better justification the court asked for in invalidating the FCC's initial decision and justification for how it was treating those documents.

Also according to industry sources and the Republican commissioners themselves, the orders extend beyond the Charter/TWC deal to FCC policy for treating confidential information more broadly.

That has Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly seeing red. They have called on the commission to separate out that more general guidance for separate public comment. But the chairman has indicated he won't start the comment cycle or shot clock on that deal until the protective orders are approved.

While the item has three votes, the other two commissioners have 21 days after that deciding vote si cast before it becomes official with or without their vote. But even then, they could ask the chairman for more time.

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.