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Clock Starts Ticking on Comcast-NBCU Deal

Companies file formal notice with the Justice Department

Comcast and NBC Universal filed a formal Hart-Scott-Rodino notice of their $30 billion deal with the Justice Department Monday — which starts the time clock on the Justice Department’s review of the deal.

Under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, companies making large deals have to notify government regulators when an accord is reached. They then must delay moving forward on completing the deal for at least 30 days — giving the government time to ask questions and review the deal’s impact.

The Justice Department can order multiple extensions of the time clock, and it’s expected to do so for this deal. (The companies also can offer to voluntarily await pending government review.)

Detailed papers of the filing are confidential.

Comcast and NBCU officials have said they expect a government review of the deal will not be completed until 2011. Besides the Justice Department review of anti-trust issues in the deal, the Federal Communications Commission conducts a separate review of deal’s public interest implications.

It already is receiving intense scrutiny in Congress. One Congressional hearing has been announced by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s anti-trust panel for Feb. 4, and three other committees are expected to also hold hearings, with one possibly earlier that same day.

Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal president-CEO Jeff Zucker are slated to testify at the Judiciary Committee hearing, as are supporters and opponents of the deal.

The Judiciary panel said it would look into: “What does the future hold for competition and consumers?” and  examine the deal’s consequences “in the realm of broadcast television, cable services and Internet delivery of programming, and its impact on consumer choices for these services.”