FCC approves Altice purchase of Cablevision Systems

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said late on Tuesday it had approved European telecoms group Altice NV’s acquisition of U.S. cable company Cablevision Systems Corp in a $17.7 billion deal that includes assumption of debt.

Traders gather at the post that trades Cablevision on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Dutch firm still needs approval from the state of New York and New York City. If the deal is approved, Altice would become the fourth largest U.S. cable provider. Cablevision has 3.1 million subscribers, mostly in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The FCC said it found the transaction was in the “public interest” and noted Altice had vowed to invest to upgrade Cablevision broadband.

Altice said in a statement it was pleased with FCC approval, “which recognizes the benefits that the proposed merger will bring to consumers in the U.S. We continue to make good progress toward a transaction closing in the second quarter of this year.”

The approval order noted that a U.S. government review panel including the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Defense Department, told the FCC on April 20 that they “have no objection to grant of the applications” based on the commitments made.

In December, the FCC approved the $9.1 billion sale of U.S. regional cable company Suddenlink Communications to Altice.

Altice announced in May 2015 its acquisition of a majority stake in Missouri-based Suddenlink, the seventh largest U.S. cable company, with about 1.5 million customers, in its first U.S. acquisition.

Altice has acquired or taken control of broadband companies in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Israel and Portugal, the FCC said, adding it had a track record of improving services after acquiring firms.

The deal includes other Cablevision assets including the News 12 programming networks; Newsday, a Long Island daily newspaper; amNewYork, a free daily serving New York City; and Star Community Publishing, a publisher of weekly shoppers and community papers on Long Island.

The Dolans will continue to own media and sports assets through AMC Networks and the Madison Square Garden Co, owner of the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers and the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks, which are not part of the deal.

Altice previously sought to buy Time Warner Cable.

Altice founder Patrick Drahi, the French-Israeli billionaire who built a telecoms and cable empire via debt-fueled acquisitions in France, Portugal and Israel, said in 2015 that Altice would look for more acquisitions and eventually earn half its revenue from the United States.

In talks that began in June, Drahi convinced Charles Dolan, the patriarch of the Irish-American family that owns Cablevision, to sell.

Cablevision Chief Executive James Dolan said in a statement in 2015 that the time was right for new ownership and that he and his family “believe that Patrick Drahi and Altice will be truly worthy successors.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney