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Comcast’s Time Warner Cable merger in danger as FCC staff calls for hearing

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Regulatory body could kill $45 billion deal

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In another setback for Comcast's planned $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, staff from the Federal Communications Commission have recommended that the agency arrange a hearing, a move that move The Wall Street Journal says is a strong sign the regulatory body believes the deal is not in the public interest. FCC staff considering the deal concluded that the agency should issue a "hearing designation order," a ruling that would put the merger in the hands of an administrative law judge, force Comcast to justify its plans, and delay proceedings.

Such a hearing would offer Comcast the chance to push its case for the deal, and negotiate terms with the government by which the merged companies would operate, but some experts see the official hearing process as the end of the line for these kinds of arrangements. In 2011, while covering a proposed $39 billion deal between AT&T and T-Mobile, net neutrality advocate and SVP of PublicKnowledge.org Harold Feld called the FCC's hearing designation orders "the kiss of death" for mergers. Feld was quickly proven right — in the same year, the planned deal fell through.

Comcast executives met with FCC and Justice Department representatives on Wednesday to discuss the regulatory bodies' reviews of the proposed merger. The future of the deal could be clouded further, The Wall Street Journal reports, by the company's involvement in the potential sale of Hulu. Comcast had agreed with the Justice Department not to "influence, control, or participate in the governance or management of Hulu," but reportedly convinced other companies not to sell the streaming service in 2013 so it could make it a competitor to Netflix.