Charter-TWC Order Looks to Be Imminent

Washington — Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler is widely expected to circulate an item this week to the other commissioners approving the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Industry sources said they understood the order would come with conditions regarding broadband buildout and protecting access to competitive online video services, including terms related to contractual restrictions.

The FCC has dived deeply into those issues in vetting this $78.7 billion merger of two of the biggest cable-TV and Internet-service providers.

A source at one of the companies involved also seemed upbeat over the deal’s prospects, though they said there was to be no celebrating until “the fat lady had sung,” which meant once the final conditions on the deal became known.

Adding more credence to the expected approval — reported first by The Wall Street Journal — was how quickly merger critics jumped on the news and called for the FCC to step back from the brink and deny the deal anyway when the commissioners vote. Otherwise, they want the agency to impose tough conditions and enforce them. At least one critic hoped it was just a trial balloon that could still burst.

The item is expected to be circulated by the end of this coming week, when the FCC’s 180-day shot clock hits that mark.

A final decision might not come this week, though, as circulating the order means allowing the other commissioners to review it before voting.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, sounded like he was expecting a deal, emphasizing in a letter to Wheeler that any conditions the FCC might put on a deal, if it were approved, should be muscular and enforceable.

If the deal is done, look for a press release or fact sheet from the commission that emphasizes the muscularity and duration of those conditions, the protections for online content and expansion of broadband buildouts and competition, and Charter’s pledges on adhering to network- neutrality rules, no data caps, and no paid interconnections.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.