These are the FCC merger hawks who’ll decide your cable future


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during an open meeting May 15, 2014 at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For months, the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal (and its companion, the AT&T-DirecTV deal) has been mostly a matter of abstraction. Are your TV and broadband about to get immensely better, or immeasurably worse? The companies claim one thing, public interest groups argue another, and the reality is probably somewhere in between.

Well, things have gotten just a little more concrete. One of the two agencies responsible for approving the merger, the Federal Communications Commission, has named the actual people who'll be overseeing the deals — and from the looks of it, the companies will face a tough review.

Among those the FCC named were people from within the agency, such as its top lawyer, Jon Sallet, as well as the heads of various departments at the FCC. But the more interesting officials come from outside. One of them, Jamillia Ferris, spent several years during the first Obama administration in the Justice Department's antitrust division in various roles, including as chief of staff. Ferris will be looking at the AT&T-DirecTV deal.

Then there's William Rogerson, the economics chair at Northwestern University. Rogerson served as the chief economist of the FCC during the Clinton administration. He'll be the senior economist overseeing both the AT&T-DirecTV deal as well as the Comcast-TWC deal, at least where the FCC is concerned.

Rounding out the outside hires is Shane Greenstein, a management professor at Northwestern who studies communications.

Consumer advocates and analysts largely agree that the lineup will likely require the companies to tread carefully.

"Outside hires for merger reviews aren’t unusual, but these particular officials certainly bring heavy-duty antitrust expertise," said Paul Gallant, a telecom analyst at Guggenheim Securities. "I think the chairman's message is that these deals will not be a cakewalk."

The Justice Department will also have a role in assessing the merger proposals, but a spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Stay tuned.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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