FCC will begin review of Comcast/AT&T deal

If approved, cabler combo would have 22 mil customers in 40 states

WASHINGTON — Comcast filed papers with the Federal Communications Commission late Thursday asking for approval to buy AT&T’s giant cable division in a $72 billion deal, kicking off a review of the country’s largest cable merger.

The news comes more than a month after Comcast announced the proposed merger with AT&T Broadband. Comcast is the country’s third largest cable company; AT&T is No. 1. Deal would give the cable combo more than 22 million customers in 40 states.

“It will enable AT&T Comcast to accelerate costly investments required to equip cable systems with the capability to deliver and improve high-speed Internet and other broadband services,” the FCC filing stated.

The full application logged with the FCC has yet to be made available. Once the papers are reviewed, the FCC will start the 180-day clock on the merger review.

In addition to the FCC, the merger must also receive the blessing of antitrust toppers at the Dept. of Justice.

Comcast’s proposal is likely to spark intense debate in Washington, with several Capitol Hill pols already skedding congressional hearings. No one is predicting the merger will fail, but certain conditions are expected to be attached.

Media consolidation is a hot topic these days, thanks to the Comcast/AT&T and EchoStar/DirecTV merger bids. Also, a federal appeals court last month threw out more media ownership rules, promising even further consolidation.

Until now, Comcast never could have pursued AT&T Broadband, due to an ownership rule blocking a cabler from reaching more than 30% of the national audience. That rule was struck down last year by a federal appeals court as arbitrary and unconstitutional.

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