The TWC/Charter Merger Looks Likely To Happen — And Soon

What Comcast spent more than a year failing to do looks to be a victory in the making for Charter: As the Washington rumor mill has it, the three-way mega-cable-merge of Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks could get through a major hurdle and gain approval by the end of the week. In other words, it looks like this one’s going to happen.

The Wall Street Journal, speaking with the ever-popular “people familiar with the situation,” reports that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is likely to circulate the order approving the merger and setting the conditions for it this week.

The regulatory process for approving the merger is the same as Comcast faced in trying to buy Time Warner Cable. The companies — in this case, Charter, TWC, and Bright House Networks — need the formal go-ahead from both the FCC and the Justice Department, either or both of which can also put limits or conditions on the deal as part of their seal of approval.

Comcast failed to convince the FCC that their plan to buy Time Warner Cable could be in the public interest, but Charter’s argument appears to have been more compelling.

In particular, Wheeler’s focus seems to be on protecting the nascent but booming world of online video delivery, according to the WSJ. The merger conditions, for example, are said to prohibit Charter from restricting content companies’ ability to offer their programming online independently from Charter.

Other conditions include holding Charter to their promise not to impose data caps or other usage-based billing schemes for at least three years, and to keep not getting into payment fights with video providers like Netflix as others have done.

The agreement will also almost certainly require Charter to both expand and improve service in all its new service areas, to increase broadband access and broadband competition in those markets. That said, the WSJ points out that the increased competition is only likely to be against telecom providers Verizon and AT&T, and will not be “cable on cable competition,” which basically does not exist.

The draft proposal that Wheeler is expected to circulate would be subject to changes or additions from other commissioners before gaining final approval, which is likely to take a few weeks.

FCC Drafting Order to Approve Charter-Time Warner Cable Deal [Wall Street Journal]