Charter Communications on Friday received federal regulatory approval for its acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, moving one step away from becoming the largest Internet and pay-TV provider in Southern California.
The Federal Communications Commission said it had approved the $71-billion deal, as expected, with conditions designed to spur competition among Internet service providers and increase the number of homes with broadband Internet connections.
The acquisitions would give Charter more than 23 million customers in 41 states, including more than 2 million in Southern California.
The deal still needs the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission, which has scheduled a vote for Thursday.
A judge in San Francisco reviewing the deal for the commission recommended approval last month, but he added conditions aimed at expanding the number of families who receive high-speed Internet service in their homes.
The Justice Department, which conducted an antitrust review, said last week it would allow Charter to complete the acquisitions.
Among them were a requirement that Charter expand broadband service in areas with spotty coverage and provide low-cost Internet access to at least 525,000 low-income homes.
Charter also would have to provide 1 million new Internet connections in areas where other high-speed operators deliver service, in order to encourage more competition.
Other conditions focused on eliminating barriers to video streaming, including a prohibition on charging usage-based prices or imposing data caps on its customers.
Charter also would not be allowed to charge interconnection fees, including to online video providers such as Netflix that deliver large amounts of data to broadband customers.
Charter Chief Executive Tom Rutledge said Friday that the conditions were “largely extensions of the longstanding consumer-friendly values and practices of our company.”
He said the deal would have “significant benefits,” including greater competition, broader access to affordable broadband service and more U.S. jobs.
But Craig Aaron, chief executive of consumer group Free Press, said the deal would undermine competition in the pay-TV and Internet markets, despite the conditions.
“It hands far too much control over the Internet’s future to a cable giant with the incentive and capability to gouge its customers with higher and higher prices,” he said.
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