Charter Wins Request That Could Speed California Deal Review

  • California agency judge approves request to skip hearing
  • Charter wanted quicker review as state trailed U.S. schedule

Charter Communications Inc. won its request for California to skip a hearing on the cable company’s bid for Time Warner Cable Inc., a step toward quicker judgment from a state set to lag behind a U.S. review of the $55.1 billion merger.

An administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday granted Charter’s request to forgo a hearing Feb. 17-18, and he set a date for a final decision May 12 after receiving briefs in March. Previously the agency had foreseen a final decision on June 10.

The change “has no bearing on the outcome” and “merely makes it possible to shorten somewhat the schedule,” Terrie Prosper, director for news and public information at the agency, said in an e-mail before the ruling was released.

Charter has pushed for a quicker review from California. “We appreciate today’s ruling which should allow us to close the pending transaction more quickly,” Tamara Smith, a Washington-based spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

A decision slipping to June would cause “significant financial hardship” as Charter carries $23.8 billion in debt taken on for the transaction without the benefit of additional revenue to be gained from the combination, the company told the California agency in a filing. “Extended uncertainty also creates challenges to employee retention,” the company said.

FCC Review

The Federal Communications Commission’s non-binding 180-day goal for finishing its review was at day 139 on Friday, implying a decision by March 24. Antitrust officials at the U.S. Justice Department also are reviewing the merger.

After buying Time Warner Cable, Charter’s service would be available to nearly 6.4 million households in California, and the company would serve 87 percent of cable video subscribers in the Los Angeles market, according to testimony before the California agency.

Charter Chief Executive Officer Tom Rutledge on Feb. 4 told investors the company has received approval from New York state and was waiting on New Jersey, Hawaii and California, and was hopeful federal reviews would conclude in March.

Charter, based in Stamford, Connecticut, in May agreed to buy No. 2 U.S. cable provider Time Warner Cable. With the deal, Charter would almost quadruple its cable subscribers, gaining 12 million customers in cities including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. The combined business would have about 17 million basic cable customers, compared with Comcast Corp.’s 22 million.

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