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Court sides with TV in Comcast review; FCC cannot disclose contracts, fees.

Byline: Andrew Zajac and Todd Shields

A federal appeals court blocked the Federal Communications Commission from ordering the disclosure of programming contracts as part of the U.S. government's review of Comcast Corp.'s takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc.

The court sided with media companies, which warned that making the contracts public would put them at a competitive disadvantage. The FCC disclosure requirement was put on hold pending a court review of a lawsuit filed this month by CBS Corp. and other media companies seeking to block release of the contracts.

The FCC's review of the $45.2 billion Comcast-Time Warner deal still can proceed, according to the court's order suspending the commission's edict on contract disclosure.

"The agency has access to the relevant documents at issue in this matter and can continue to evaluate the proposed merger during the stay,'' according to the court.

At issue is who gets to see documents showing fees paid by the cable providers to the media companies that provide programming.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable television company and home Internet service provider, will become Worcester's new cable provider through a mega-merger with Time Warner Cable. Charter Communications Inc., which has been Worcester's longtime provider of cable, Internet and telephone services, fits into the complex deal as a third party.

Worcester provider

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. announced Nov. 6 he will approve Comcast's application to take over Worcester's cable franchise from Charter. With the city manager's approval, Worcester became the 53rd and final community in Central Massachusetts to approve a franchise transfer from Charter to Comcast.

Sena Fitzmaurice, spokeswoman for Philadelphia-based Comcast, said in an emailed statement that the federal appeals court's "stay order deals with a procedural matter that has never had anything to do with the substance of our transaction,'' and the FCC can continue its review,

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment on the ruling.

The FCC voted Nov. 10 to allow interested parties to review the contracts. It suspended that access for seven days to give the media companies time to seek court review.

The Washington appeals court issued a further delay Nov. 14 to collect arguments for or against a longer postponement.

The disclosure requirement also would apply to the FCC's review of AT&T Inc.'s acquisition of satellite TV provider DirecTV. Michael Balmoris, a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T, didn't immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment on Friday's ruling.

The case is CBS v. FCC, 14-1242, United State Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

This report includes material from a Telegram & Gazette story published Nov. 7.

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Title Annotation:Business
Author:Zajac, Andrew; Shields, Todd
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 22, 2014
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