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The Wall Street Journal ended last workweek with a Friday article entitled "NBC in Hand, Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) Now Faces New Hurdles." The first response to that article should be that, from the perspective of the nation's largest cable company -- with its nearly 25 million subscribers -- General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) NBC Universal is hardly "in hand."
I happen to be a fan of both Comcast and the proposed combination. Nevertheless, I expect a long regulatory approval process before the merger is blessed and put to bed. Indeed, there are all sorts of opinions being bandied about regarding the nature of the approval process that the companies will be required to submit to and the length of time those processes will consume. Some believe that the putting-to-bed process won't be completed for as long as 18 months.
Why the drawn-out process? In part, as David Cohen and Rick Cotton, executives of Comcast and NBC, respectively, observed in a press briefing last week, this is the first significant antitrust review of the Obama administration. (I'm not sure I'd cherish an opportunity to be in those shoes.) In any event, the review could be overseen by either the Justice Department or by the Federal Trade Commission. And a foursome of congressional committees plan to conduct hearings on various aspects of the transaction.
At the same time, as Cohen noted, the process permits anyone with a grievance to be heard. That could include concerned competitors. For instance, an executive of DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV ) has already said that the company is studying the deal's potential effects. And you can rest assured that Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) , along with Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and AT&T (NYSE: T ) , is similarly involved.
Last week, in an interview on National Public Radio, professor Jim Speta of Northwestern University's School of Law further detailed the approval process and predicted that "it will be approved with some conditions." He didn't, however, speculate what those conditions might be.
So as I told my Foolish friends last week, my inclination is to watch the merger process develop, but to avoid laying down your shekels for any of the communications companies directly or peripherally involved. However, if you want to participate in what Speta called "the communications merger of the decade," you're probably best advised to do so through GE.