On Tuesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed in a press statement that he has begun circulating a draft order among his fellow commissioners that recommends agency clearance of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of DirecTV with conditions designed to “protect consumers, expand high-speed broadband availability, and increase competition.” Announced in May 2014, the $49 billion cash, stock and debt transaction would catapult AT&T to the top rank of U.S. multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) by combining AT&T’s 5.9 million “U-Verse” IPTV subscribers with the 20.4 million direct broadcast satellite service customers served by DirecTV. Wheeler issued his statement as Assistant U.S. Attorney General Bill Baer announced that the Justice Department had signed off on the deal, concluding: “the combination of AT&T’s land-based Internet and video businesses with DirecTV’s satellite-based video business does not pose a significant risk to competition.”
The conditions contained in the draft order build upon commitments made by AT&T that include the company’s pledge last week to offer DSL broadband services at monthly rates of $5-$10 to low-income customers who satisfy certain eligibility criteria. Under the draft order, AT&T would be required to deploy high-speed fiber connections to 12.5 million customer locations nationwide, representing, in the words of Wheeler, “ten times the size of AT&T’s current fiber-to-the-premise deployment, increases the entire nation’s residential fiber build by more than 40 percent, and more than triples the number of metropolitan areas AT&T has announced plans to serve.” Wheeler also noted that the proposed conditions prohibit AT&T from excluding “affiliated video services and content from data caps on its fixed broadband connections.” AT&T would also be required to submit copies of its completed interconnection agreements to the FCC along with regular reports on network performance.
Wheeler declined further comment on when the FCC’s vote is expected to take place. Declaring, “we are pleased the Department of Justice has completed its review of our acquisition of DirecTV,” an AT&T spokesman told reporters, “we look forward to gaining the approval of the [FCC] so we can quickly begin providing customers with the benefits of this combination.”