Charter's Rutledge meets with Wheeler again as TWC deal review drags on, gets more expensive

Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) President and CEO Tom Rutledge met with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for the second time in a month on April 6, ironing out the company's concessions to what many investors believe is the agency's imminent approval of the MSO's mergers with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks.

According to an FCC filing made by Charter, the MSO discussed extending its broadband network to reach new customer locations. It also discussed letting online video operators use its network without charge, and letting customers enjoy streaming video without the hindrance of usage caps.

The FCC's review has now extended 18 days beyond its official 180-day review window. Analysts believe the agency is merely haggling out conditions with the MSO at this point.

It was reported by the Wall Street Journal in mid-March that Wheeler was ready to circulate an order to FCC commissioners, recommending the conditional approval of both cable company purchases. Charter's stock is up nearly 7 percent since that time, and the company recently revealed that the price for acquiring TWC has gone up due to the impact of the stock price fluctuation on the deal structure.

The merger is still under fire from progressive groups and pay-TV competitors including Dish Network, who claim the newly expanded Charter will control, along with Comcast, too much broadband market share. Opponents also say the so-called "New Charter" will thwart the growth of online video.

Tellingly, while referencing pay-TV's recent mergers as he pointedly criticized the industry in a Monday speech at an INCOMPAS gathering in Washington, D.C., Wheeler omitted Charter's deals from his verbal wrath.

"My concerns about video competition ties together a number of high-profile issues that have come before the Commission, notably the proposed mergers of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable, which we rejected, and the AT&T/DirecTV (NYSE: T) deal, which we approved with conditions," Wheeler said.

For more:
- read this Charter FCC filing
- read this Bloomberg story

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