Report: FCC to Throw Big Wrench Into Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

If the case is referred to a hearing, the $45 billion deal is in serious trouble. One analyst has called it "99 percent" dead.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Federal Communications Commission staff members have recommended a procedural move that could seriously hurt the chances of Comcast’s $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The FCC staff reached a conclusion that the best option for the FCC is to issue a “hearing designation order,” according to people familiar with the matter. In effect, that would put the $45.2 billion merger in the hands of an administrative law judge, and would be seen as a strong sign the FCC doesn’t believe the deal is in the public interest.

The article warns that the situation is still “fluid” with a final decision yet to be made.

A Comcast spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that the company met with regulators but declined to comment on specifics.

“We had one in a series of meetings with the Department of Justice today, as well as another meeting with the FCC,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “As with all of our DOJ discussions in the past and going forward, we do not believe it is appropriate to share the content of those meetings publicly, and we, therefore, have no comment. Similarly, our only comment on FCC meetings will be our filed ex parte communication.”

Although Comcast has said repeatedly that the merged company would provide a better customer experience for both cable and broadband users, regulators seem unsure. Just last week, Bloomberg reported that anti-trust lawyers from the U.S. Dept. of Justice are set to recommend blocking the deal due to concerns that such a large company would be harmful to consumers.

A hearing would be devastating due to the amount of time it could take, with the likelihood to stretch well beyond both companies’ timeframes.

Bloomberg spoke with an analyst who said the deal is all but dead.

“I’d never say anything was 100 percent dead, but this is in the 99 percent category,” Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG in New York, said in a phone interview. “It’s not every day that you have a transaction that is universally hated by everyone outside of Philadelphia,” where Comcast is based.

Follow @JaredShelly on Twitter. Jared is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s launching-soon business blog, @BizPhilly.