WASHINGTON -- Government officials reviewing the proposed deal between America Online and Time Warner could reach a decision as early as this week, resolving the companies' yearlong pursuit of the largest merger in U.S. corporate history.
The Federal Trade Commission has scheduled a closed hearing for Thursday -- the type of forum where the agency's five commissioners could discuss or vote on the deal, valued at $162 billion when it was announced in January.
The FTC also could postpone a decision, as it has done several times.
The Washington Post reported in Monday's editions that three -- and possibly four -- members of the five-member commission are ready to approve the merger.
The two companies, seeking to meld AOL's vast Internet presence with Time Warner's media empire, won approval from European regulators in October. Last month AOL and Time Warner extended negotiations with the FTC to mid-December, giving antitrust regulators time to review additional developments in the deal.
The two also need clearance from the Federal Communications Commission, which has said it will wait until the FTC's antitrust process is complete before acting.
The FTC has been scrutinizing the massive combination for possible anticompetitive effects. The deal brings together a media conglomerate that owns a far-reaching network of cable systems and shows, and the nation's top Internet service provider, with 25 million subscribers.
To assuage wary regulators, the companies promised they would give AOL's rivals access to Time Warner's high-speed cable lines to deliver Internet service.
Under pressure, Time Warner backed up the pledge with an agreement to offer AOL's chief competitor, EarthLink, over its cable systems.
That means consumers who subscribe to Time Warner's high-speed Internet cable service will have choices besides AOL for their online provider.
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