Comcast, AT&T get closer

Waiting period has expired, but final merge date not set

Comcast and AT&T’s giant cable merger leaped a hurdle Tuesday when the waiting period for a key antitrust provision passed with no requests by the Dept. of Justice for additional information.

The DOJ and Federal Communications Commission must still approve the merger.

The proposed partners said the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvement Act expired and that the act therefore “no longer prohibits the parties from closing the proposed transaction.”

Antitrust officials cautioned, however, that there is no “magic date” for a final decision regardless of whether a Hart-Rodino deadline passes.

The DOJ’s antitrust division’s current investigation of the combination remains open. “We are seeking to reach a decision on this matter as quickly as possible,” the agency said in a prepared statement.

The FCC has not ruled either way on the companies’ pending applications. It isn’t likely to complete its review for at least another month. AT&T and Comcast could wait even longer if the reg agency stops the 180-day review clock. As of Tuesday, the clock was at day 146.

Nonetheless, there is widespread consensus that Washington will bless the mega cable merger.

Consumer advocates are despondent over the easy treatment, warning that it’s treading on dangerous territory to give one cabler so much market power. The new company would control about one-third of all U.S. cable households.

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