FCC approval near for Charter’s Time Warner takeover

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The clock is just about run out.

All indications are that Charter Communications has cut a deal with the Federal Communications Commission that will allow it to buy out Time Warner’s and Bright House’s cable systems, making it the second biggest U.S. cable company, after Comcast.

Major newspapers and wire services are floating stories that generally all jibe. Which means they’re either banging around in the same speculative echo chamber or the FCC sprung some leaks. Given the amount of specificity, I think it’s the latter and expect to see an official announcement, maybe as soon as today.

The FCC’s conditions include ending deals with programmers to restrict where content can be shown. According to a story in Broadband & Cable by Adonis Hoffman (h/t to Joe Camicia for the pointer), the changes will ripple through the entire cable industry…

The FCC expects Charter…to abolish onerous contract provisions that restrict content producers from alternative distribution methods, including over-the-top…But not so fast.

In a deft display of legerdemain, Charter agreed to these terms provided they would apply to every company, industry wide. And since the FCC does not admit to regulation through mergers, it hastily adopted a Notice of Inquiry on Diverse and Independent Programming as a quid pro quo to deliver on that promise. Cynicism aside, the NOI establishes a solid predicate for a long overdue rulemaking in this area and could lead to progress.

No word on what the federal justice department thinks about it, but since the FCC rarely, if ever, approves mergers without its concurrence, it’s a fair bet that’s in the bag too.