DOJ lawyers leaning against Comcast merger

DOJ lawyers leaning against Comcast merger
© Getty Images

Justice Department attorneys are reportedly close to urging the government to block Comcast’s $45 billion proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.

Bloomberg on Friday reported that lawyers reviewing the deal are “leaning against” approving it, in what would be a massive show of force by antitrust regulators.

ADVERTISEMENT
Their decision could be submitted to department brass as soon as next week, the news outlet reported. Then, it would be up to the department’s top antitrust official, Renata Hesse, to ultimately decide whether or not to file a legal motion to block the deal.

The massive proposed merger to combine the nation’s two largest cable companies seemed practically inevitable when it was announced in February, but the skies appear to have darkened in recent weeks amid seemingly hostile activity at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is also tasked with reviewing the merger. 

The proposal has also suffered from a massive lobbying blitz aiming to kill the deal. 

Critics say that the merger would create one cable behemoth that would have the power to stamp out competition across most of the nation.

Since Comcast also owns NBC and its subsidiaries, the combined deal could also give it the incentive and power to unfairly prioritize its own products either on television or on the Internet, critics say.

Company officials have repeatedly defended the deal, which they say would bring new services to millions of Americans.

“The Comcast/Time Warner Cable transaction will result in significant consumer benefits — faster broadband speeds, access to a superior video experience, and more competition in business services resulting in billions of dollars of cost savings,” spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement. “These benefits have been essentially unchallenged in the record — and all can be achieved without any reduction of competition.”

“As a result, there is no basis for a lawsuit to block the transaction."

Comcast and Time Warner Cable don’t compete in any of the same markets, officials note, so regulators should have no reason to block it. The company would also be left with 30 percent of the national pay-television market, which lawyers have argued would not reduce competition in that area.

While the company had originally hoped for regulatory approval on the deal by the end of last year, delays have forced it to push back its estimated end date until this summer.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment to The Hill. Earlier on Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declined to give a time frame for his agency’s decision on the merger. 

- Updated at 3:52 p.m.