Comcast’s $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable is likely to be one of the most high-profile mergers of 2014 — and probably one of the priciest. But before the acquisition can take place, it must be approved by the federal government. As the deal waits to be reviewed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), one of the highest DOJ antitrust officers has recused himself.
Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer is the top antitrust regulator who represented NBC Universal and General Electric at the firm Arnold & Porter in 2011 when Comcast acquired a majority stake in company, according to the Wall Street Journal. The DOJ offered no explanation for why Baer will not participate in the review of the Comcast TWC deal in its announcement, but did note that the review will be overseen by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Renata B. Hesse and Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Gelfand.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will join the Justice Department in the review, which will seek to ensure that Comcast’s purchase of the cable telecom provider will not create a monopoly in the cable sector, and will not violate any anticompetitive legislation. Indeed, if the deal goes through it will effectively combine two of the largest cable providers in the U.S. The concerns will mostly center around Comcast’s resulting share of the infrastructure once such a merger is complete, how that will affect the competition from other existing, smaller cable providers, and if it will in fact create an anticompetitive environment for future innovators and smaller companies.
It is safe to say that critics of the pending deal are worried not only about the level of market share Comcast will have if the deal goes through, but also the amount of power. This is especially true following the dismissal of net neutrality regulations the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in January. With the court’s decision, internet service providers have been freed of the mandate to provide equal access to certain content providers, and to ensure network traffic functions equally to users. Should Comcast acquire TWC, it will not only have dominion over far more infrastructure, but — if the regulatory environment is what it is at the time of this writing — it will have the deciding power to strike deals with content providers to ensure their uptime on their networks. One such deal has already been made between Netflix and Comcast.