Here's a question for all you English majors who are waiting for the merger of America Online (AOL) and Time Warner (TWX) to close: Now that it's nearly the 10th of the month, are we still in the "very early days of January"?

Why does this matter? Because that's when AOL and Time Warner assured the world Dec. 20 that their merger would close. Yet like the Energizer Bunny, the approval process at the

Federal Communications Commission

-- the last regulatory hurdle the two companies have to clear to consummate their deal -- just keeps going and going.

On Tuesday, AOL's stock jumped $2.82 to $42.85, and Time Warner rose $3.76 to $64.40.

The FCC approval process, once perceived as a cakewalk compared to the antitrust wringer the companies went through at the

Federal Trade Commission

last year, is proving to be a longer-than-expected course for AOL and Time Warner to navigate. The companies' pleas for December approval

came to naught. And so have the majority of very early days of January.

"It's all still under review," says an FCC spokeswoman. An AOL spokeswoman says the merger is still on schedule.

Meanwhile, filings by parties interested in the deal continue to pile up at the FCC's offices (appropriately enough for AOL, they're called "Portals II"). On Sunday and Monday, according to filings at the FCC, Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the public interest law firm

Media Access Project

, made informal presentations to FCC staffers in an effort to get the FCC to put conditions on the merger that would ensure that local and regional Internet service providers have access to AOL Time Warner's high-speed cable systems. On Tuesday, Stephen Heins, director of marketing for

NorthNet

, a Wisconsin ISP, and

a champion of ISPs' cause at the FTC, made another filing on the subject.

But when will there be approval? And when will there be an announcement? The FCC isn't talking, nor is AOL. Schwartzman, who says his impression is that the FCC is focusing more on the issue of instant messaging and less on local ISPs, says, "They seem not to have a deal" -- adding that, of course, if there were a deal, AOL, Time Warner and the FCC would let people know.

Well, at least there are a few more very early days of January left.