PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Federal Communications Commission's decision to allow the merger of Comcast and AT&T Broadband creates the largest cable company in the nation -- a behemoth that will have nearly twice as many customers as its nearest competitor.
The commission's 3-1 vote Wednesday marked one of the final steps toward completing the $29.2 billion merger, which comes amid a wave of consolidation in the cable business.
The FCC dismissed consumer groups' concerns about potential dominance by the new AT&T Comcast, which would control 29 percent of the market with 27 million subscribers, nearly twice as many as No. 2 AOL Time Warner Inc.
"The benefits of this transaction are considerable, the potential harms negligible," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.
Following the FCC announcement, the Justice Department's antitrust division said it wouldn't challenge the merger.
Gene Kimmelman, the lead lobbyist in Washington for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine, called the merger "dangerous."
"It is mind-boggling how federal officials have let the largest cable companies consolidate and thereby dictate the choices of cable channels and high-speed Internet services for consumers," he said.
But FCC media bureau chief Kenneth Ferree said no consumer would see a drop in the number of pay TV choices available.
Company arguments that the merger would help consumers prevailed, said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst in Atlanta.
"This was a big win for them. They focused on the benefits like the rapid rollout of broadband and advanced services," Kagan said.
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