By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission does not expect to review AT&T Inc’s <T.N> planned $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc <TWX.N>, a spokesman for the agency said on Monday.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that he did not foresee a role for the FCC on the takeover and his comments were confirmed to Reuters by FCC spokesman Neil Grace.
Last Thursday, Time Warner said it plans to sell a broadcast station in Atlanta to Meredith Corp for $70 million, which could help speed the company’s planned merger with AT&T. Pai declined to say on Thursday if he would use that transfer to try to review the broader merger.
In January, AT&T said it expected to be able to bypass the FCC because it would not seek to transfer any Time Warner licenses.
About a dozen U.S. senators have urged him to review the deal.
The station that Time Warner is selling, WPCH-TV in Atlanta, is its only FCC-regulated broadcast station. It has other, more minor FCC licenses. Meredith has operated WPCH-TV for Time Warner since 2011. It was previously know as WTBS.
Time Warner said last month it expected it would only need the consent of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department, which is reviewing documents submitted on the proposed merger, has to prove a proposed deal harms competition in order to block it. The FCC has broad leeway to block a merger it deems is not in the “public interest” and can impose additional conditions.
AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told CNBC earlier this month the Justice Department review was ongoing and he thought the deal would close by the end of the year. “It’s a clean transaction,” he said.
People briefed on the matter do not expect the Justice Department to act on the merger until an assistant attorney general overseeing the anti-trust division is named and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
AT&T, which repeatedly clashed with the FCC under President Barack Obama over major industry regulations, said last year one benefit to its buying Time Warner is that the programing company is “lightly regulated compared to much of AT&T’s existing operations.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)