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DoJ Won't Pursue Comcast-NBCU Merger Probe – Report

Jeff Baumgartner
12/28/2018

The US Justice Department has opted not to pursue an investigation into Comcast's long-closed acquisition of NBCUniversal, a merger that President Trump has criticized as anti-competitive, according to the New York Post.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not announced that it is calling off such an investigation, but the New York Post reported Thursday that federal prosecutors have not filed a "civil investigative demand for company records" that would have moved such a probe forward, and "have no plans to do so."

"Nothing is happening," a source close to Comcast told the paper. "I think if the DoJ were going to take action, it would have happened by now."

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) declined to comment on the report. The American Cable Association (ACA) has been asked for comment.

The report arrives almost two months after the American Cable Association, a group that represents a wide range of independent cable operators and competitive overbuilders, asked the DoJ to open up an antitrust investigation into the Comcast-NBCU deal. The ACA is concerned that the combination harms its constituents because it gives Comcast too much control of cable systems, TV stations and regional sports networks concentrated in some of the largest US local markets. (See ACA Calls for Comcast Antitrust Investigation & Trump Weighs In.)

The ACA claimed that the Comcast-NBCU merger, which closed in January 2011, poses a greater threat than AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s acquisition of Time Warner Inc., a deal that is currently facing a DoJ-led appeal. (See FCC Gives DoJ a Boost in Appeal Against AT&T-Time Warner Merger.)

The ACA's request was amplified by a tweet from Trump that seemed to show support for the group's call for the investigation.

The ACA request arrived after the conditions originally imposed on the Comcast-NBCU merger expired on September 1, 2018, which focused on constraints that would help to protect the emerging OTT video marketplace. The DoJ reportedly told Comcast in August that it would continue to monitor the company's behavior, particularly with respect to how it handles programming deals and the distribution of TV content.

In November, Comcast called the ACA's call for a DoJ probe "meritless" and said that it "constitutes an inappropriate attempt to gain leverage in the commercial marketplace."

Last year, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sought to renew the investigation into Comcast and NBCU ahead of the expiring merger conditions and "consider separating" them if that probe determined that the combo was anti-competitive.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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