FCC suspends review of AOL/Time Warner Deal

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that it is suspending its review of America Online Inc.’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Inc. until after the Federal Trade Commission completes its own review.

In a letter to the two companies, Christopher J. Wright, general counsel to the FCC, said the agency was “stopping the clock” on consideration of the purchase because the FCC’s review “may be affected by the antitrust agency’s determinations.”

AOL, in Dulles, Va., announced its intent to purchase New York-based Time Warner last January and has been negotiating regulatory hurdles ever since. This latest setback comes on the same day the European Union announced it wouldn’t stand in the way of the transaction.

Phil Leigh, an Internet analyst at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Fla., said any delay is bad news for the principals. “My gut reaction is if the FCC was highly confident in its decision, it might just not pay attention to other agencies, so maybe on margin this indicates some hesitation.”

However, he said, “given the stakes in play here, I wouldn’t want to be accused of not having paid attention to all of the facts. It shows how sensitive this all has become.”

Time Warner denied that the delay indicated any problems. “Our discussions with the FCC are proceeding well and have been constructive,” a spokesperson said. “We’re on track to close in the fall.”

An AOL spokesperson wasn’t immediately available.

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