Initial Questions Offer Hope That FCC Isn’t Going Easy On Comcast/TWC Merger

While the FCC’s public comment period for the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger remain open through Monday, the commission has already sent off its first round of questions to the companies involved. And judging by both the quantity and quality of the things being asked, it looks like the FCC isn’t ready to rubber-stamp the deal.

The FCC has sent lengthy requests for information to Comcast and TWC. It has also sent request to Charter, as the carrier is slated to swap several markets with the combined company if the merger is completed.

While it’s no surprise for the FCC to ask for precise data on customers and markets covered by these companies, there are some unexpected questions. For example, the Comcast information request [PDF] asks for very detailed data about Netflix traffic and info on Comcast’s pay-for-access deal with the streaming video giant.

The request also seeks information about companies’ agreements with and connections to the Internet’s so-called “backbone” providers, who do much of the heavy lifting of carrying data to and from cable companies’ networks.

Then there are questions about things like set-top box design and deployment that industry insiders tell Consumerist don’t usually come up at this stage. A number of the matters brought up in these requests are things that often get asked in later rounds of questioning, and frequently only at the urging of merger opponents.

One expert who has looked at the requests describes the overall tone of the inquiry as one of “deep skepticism” compared to the happy story Comcast has tried to tell. Had the FCC already made up its mind to approve the merger, the questions would likely be fairly broad and generic, much like they were during the regulatory review of the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal.

Insiders say this depth of questioning at such an early stage is closer to the FCC’s handing of the AT&T merger with T-Mobile, which ultimately collapsed after it became clear that regulators would not sign off on it.

Before anyone opposed to the merger gets too hopeful, there is nothing in the questions to indicate that the Commission is looking to block the deal. What it does offer is a sliver of hope that the FCC is at least willing to listen to the concerns of those who think this merger would harm consumers.