AT&T has suggested that it might not need Federal Communications Commission approval of its purchase of Time Warner Inc., but that may just be wishful thinking.
Some news organizations have reported that Time Warner has only one FCC license, for a TV station in Atlanta, and that the AT&T/Time Warner merger wouldn’t be reviewed by the FCC if Time Warner sells that TV station to a third party. That is not correct, however. Time Warner programmers such as HBO, CNN, and Turner Broadcasting System also have dozens of FCC licenses that let them upload video to satellites used by pay-TV companies.
These licenses are crucial for distributing video to cable TV providers. It isn’t only satellite TV companies like Dish or the AT&T-owned DirecTV that use satellites to send programmers’ video to consumers’ homes—even cable companies like Comcast use what’s called a “headend in the sky” to receive and distribute video.
The FCC’s list of active satellite Earth station licenses shows that CNN America has 36 such licenses covering operations at specific locations. HBO and HBO Latin America have a combined seven licenses, and Turner Broadcasting System has 14 licenses. That’s 57 licenses that could trigger an FCC review. Licenses for some of the same locations were part of the FCC’s review of Time Warner’s merger with AOL in 2001.
AT&T would love to avoid an FCC review, which in the past has killed deals such as AT&T/T-Mobile and Comcast/Time Warner Cable. (Note that Time Warner and Time Warner Cable are completely separate entities, and that Time Warner Cable …