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The Department of Justice said Tuesday it is continuing to investigate Comcast Corp.’s acquisition of AT&T Broadband despite the expiration of a key antitrust deadline. “The antitrust division currently has an open investigation of the proposed acquisition,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “This investigation remains open, but we are seeking to reach a decision as quickly as possible.” Comcast and AT&T said Tuesday in a joint statement that 30 days have passed since they certified compliance with the second request, which is the formal demand by the Justice Department for more details on the merger. Because the antitrust division typically files suit to stop a deal during this 30-day window, expiration of the waiting period is taken as a sign that the government has closed its investigation and the companies are free to complete the transaction. In this case, the announcement may be more symbolic than practical. The Federal Communications Commission must complete its review before the companies may close the deal. Given that the FCC review is expected to last at least another month, there was little pressure on the antitrust division to wrap up its investigation before the 30-day window expired. Competition policy advocates said they considered the announcement by Comcast and AT&T as an effort to push the FCC into expediting its work. The FCC tries to complete its reviews within 180 days. The Comcast-AT&T Broadband deal Tuesday was on day 136, though that clock had been stopped several times to give parties more time to file documents. “As a political matter, this increases the pressure on the FCC to conclude its investigation,” said Harold Feld, associate director of the Media Access Project, which is trying to stop the merger. “The FCC is very sensitive that it slows deals with a duplicative review process.” A former government regulator said certifying compliance with the second request puts pressure on the FCC because it no longer can say it is waiting for the Justice Department to act. “The FCC won’t be able to hide under the DOJ’s skirt any longer,” the former regulator said. An FCC spokeswoman said the agency is trying to complete its review as quickly as possible. “We are progressing as expeditiously as we can,” she said. The former regulator said he is surprised the antitrust division has not already conceded the case, though he said the fact the government did not require the companies to provide 10 or 20 days advance notice before closing the deal is a sign that it will clear the transaction. “If they were really to file a lawsuit, then they would have demanded a timing agreement,” he said. Joe Sims, a partner at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington, D.C., said he thought it would be shocking if the Justice Department tried to stop the deal. “These are two cable companies without any overlapping markets,” he said. Comcast agreed Dec. 19 to acquire AT&T Broadband in a deal initially valued at about $37 billion. The deal is expected to close by year’s end. In August, a source said the Justice Department intended to complete its review by early October. Consumer groups have charged the transaction would give Comcast enormous control over high-speed Internet access and over providers of cable programming. Comcast and AT&T counter that the deal will permit them to roll out rival phone services and deliver entertainment programming more efficiently to consumers. Copyright �2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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