Comcast Deal Is Already Dead, But California Wants to Kill it Again

Comcast Corp. has pulled the plug on its proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable Inc., but that hasn’t stopped California regulators from trying to kill the deal.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission is still weighing a proposal by one of its commissioners to reject the merger. An administrative law judge for the commission ruled that the process should go forward, which could lead to a vote later this month.

All of which exasperates Comcast.

“There is no longer a transaction to consider,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for the company. “The parties have withdrawn their merger requests.”

Deal opponents say they want a vote on Commissioner Mike Florio’s proposal to reject the merger so issues, such as the extent of the commission’s power over broadband, can be settled before more mergers come before the state.

“A decision would really help guide practitioners,” said Paul Goodman, legal counsel to the Greenlining Institute, a non-profit in Berkeley, California, which opposed the deal. “It’s very unclear right now in California” which cable services are subject to state regulation, he said.

A decision also would solidify the case for compensation that groups can claim from Comcast and Time Warner Cable for advocating before the agency, deal opponents said in a filing.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, abandoned its $45.2 billion merger with No. 2 Time Warner Cable on April 24 amid opposition from U.S. regulators concerned the combined company would have too much power over broadband.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission granted the company’s request for withdrawal, as did New York state. California hasn’t acted on Comcast’s request to withdraw the merger application.

Administrative Judge

Administrative Law Judge Karl Bemesderfer said April 29 he was denying a request to stay the comment period on Florio’s proposal. Comments are due Monday.

Florio, a former attorney with The Utility Reform Network that works for consumer protection, maintains that the merger would have resulted in “an extreme increase in market concentration.”

Technically, a proposal in California to approve the merger is also still alive.

Rachelle Chong, a former CPUC member, predicted the commission will take up the merger later in May and vote for Florio’s proposal. Chong represents a group, the California Emerging Technology Fund, which in filings about the merger pressed for more broadband for poor people.

Andrew Kotch, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment.

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