By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp said on Thursday it plans to submit documents on its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc to U.S. regulators by the end of March, when antitrust and public interest reviews will be launched.
The proposed merger between the two biggest U.S. cable service providers is expected to draw intense scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission, which reviews whether deals are in the public interest, and either the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission, which share antitrust oversight.
The deal has drawn concern from consumer advocates and some lawmakers who worry that the new company’s size would give it too much power to decide what Americans can watch on TV and do online.
Comcast is targeting the end of March to submit its application to the FCC, spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said. Companies usually have 30 business days to file with the FCC after a deal’s announcement.
Around the same time, Comcast will also submit documents asking antitrust regulators for approval, she said. The FTC and Justice Department will then determine which agency will take the lead on the review.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Justice Department antitrust chief William Baer sent a rare public signal of skepticism earlier this month on a potential deal between wireless carriers Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc. No deal has been officially proposed yet between those companies.
On Thursday, Wheeler was asked whether he had similar concerns about the proposed tie-up between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
”It was an interesting situation in that Sprint/T-Mobile actually came to us and said: ‘We’re thinking about this, what do you think about it?’ Comcast never did,“ Wheeler said. ”So I‘m in a position right now of sitting and waiting for Comcast to file their requisite documents so that we can begin our consideration.
“We’ll wait to give it a full, fair, open hearing,” he added.
Comcast, which pledged upfront to several concessions that federal regulators were likely to request, has maintained that customers will benefit from the merger as services and technology improve.
“All we can ask for is a full, fair, and open hearing - and I think Chairman Wheeler’s message is that is what we will get,” Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said on Thursday.
“In the broadband space and in the video space, we’re not depriving a single consumer in America of a choice that he or she has today,” Cohen told reporters after the deal was announced last week.
The chief executive officer of DirecTV, which competes against Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the pay TV market, on Thursday urged careful regulatory scrutiny of their proposed deal, saying it might create an “effective broadband monopoly” in two-thirds of the United States.
Mike White, the DirectTV CEO, said his company, the nation’s largest satellite TV provider, was still determining what position to take with regulators who will review the merger.