Antitrust lawyers said to be leaning against Comcast merger

April 17, 2015

Staff attorneys at the Justice Department’s antitrust division are nearing a recommendation to block Comcast Corp.’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

Attorneys who are investigating Comcast’s $45.2 billion proposal to create a nationwide cable giant are leaning against the merger out of concerns that consumers would be harmed and could submit their review as soon as next week, said the people.

The antitrust lawyers will present their findings to Renata Hesse, a deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust, who will decide, along with the division’s top officials, whether to file a federal lawsuit to block the deal, they said.

The Justice Department lawyers have been contacting outside parties in the last few weeks to shore up evidence to support a potential case against the merger, one of the people said.

Furthermore, officials at the antitrust division and the Federal Communications Commission, which is also reviewing the deal, aren’t negotiating with Comcast about conditions to the merger that would resolve concerns, such as selling parts of its business or changing practices, said two people familiar with the situation.

The merger, if completed as planned, would shake up the cable industry in central Indiana. Comcast plans to exit the market after the acquisition and hand 2.5 million customers off to a new spinoff called GreatLand Connections. 

The staff recommendation isn’t yet complete and company officials remain confident.

“There is no basis for a lawsuit to block the transaction,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman. The merger “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.”

Time Warner Cable spokesman Bobby Amirshahi said “we have been working productively with both DOJ and FCC and believe that there is no basis for DOJ to block the deal.”

Comcast has been seeking approval for the merger from the Justice Department and the FCC since it was announced last year. Comcast could still fight any lawsuit in court or attempt to reach a settlement that would let the deal go ahead.

Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.

Hesse is overseeing the review because Bill Baer, the chief of the antitrust division, is recused from the matter. He previously represented NBCUniversal when Comcast bought the network in 2011.


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