Windstream/Earthlink Clears Antitrust Hurdle

The Feds have given a clean antitrust review bill of health to the proposed $1.1 billion merger of ISPs Windstream and Earthlink.

The deal was listed among those that had been granted early termination of their Hart Scott Rodino antitrust reviews. Those are conducted by either the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission--they never say which reviewed a deal when granting early termination, but Justice usually handles telecom transactions.

Early termination means they are done with the review and are not suggesting that the merger be blocked or suing to insure that certain conditions are applied.

The FCC will also need to sign off, but that process will take a while longer. The FCC opened its review docket on the deal Dec. 2 and reply comments are not due until Dec. 23, so there will likely be no decision before early next year. The companies signaled they did not expect the deal to be able to close until first quarter 2017.

The companies announced Nov. 7 they had reached a deal for an all-stock deal for $1.1 billion, including debt.

The combined company will have 145,000 fiber route miles, including key Southeast and Northeast routes, and make it a stronger player in the enterprise (business data services) sector, they said.

They told the FCC that the deal would would lower overhead and lead to at least $50 million annually in "network access synergies" in a "relatively short" timeframe, the FCC said in establishing the comment cycle for the deal.

The FCC review goes beyond antitrust to look at public interest factors and boosting competition in the business data services (BDS) market has been one of the FCC's goals in a planned--though since tabled--revamp of BDS regs.

Windstream also said the meld would give it more flexibility in "strategic investments."

The new company will be called Windstream and be based in Little Rock, Ark.

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.