Regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission is still pending on a proposed merger that would extend Comcast's position as the country's largest broadband provider. The deal, proposed a year ago, has generated sharp criticism from proponents of net neutrality, many of whom are Democrats, who argue that the combined company would have too much power to decide Internet traffic flow.
But with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler leading a Democrat majority on the commission to approve rules that will classify the Internet as a utility and prohibit pay-to-play "fast lanes," Comcast and Time Warner Cable may be shielded from critics who charge that broadband consolidation is counter to a "free and open Internet."
"This paves the way for Comcast/Time Warner Cable to get approved," Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Securities, said in an interview. "It's the next thing in the queue." The deal could be approved by the end of March or early April, she added.
Before the merger can move forward, the Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission still need to comment on the deal in the form of a consent decree. The industry will be watching to see if there are any surprises in that statement, said Paul Sweeney, analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. The decree essentially covers the legal details of the merger under regulatory approval.