By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp said it plans to submit documents on its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc to U.S. federal regulators by the end of March, when antitrust and public interest reviews will be launched.
The merger between the two U.S. biggest cable operators is expected to draw intense regulatory scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission, which reviews whether deals are in the public interest, and either the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission, which share antitrust oversight.
The proposed deal has drawn concerns from consumer advocates and some lawmakers who worry that the new company's size would have too much power to decide what Americans can watch on TV and do online.
Comcast is targeting the end of March to submit its application to the FCC, said spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. Companies usually have 30 business days to file with the FCC after a deal's announcement.
Around the same time, Comcast will also submit documents asking antitrust regulators to approve the deal, she said. The FTC and Justice Department will then determine which agency will take the lead on the review.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Justice Department antitrust chief William Baer sent a rare public signal of skepticism earlier this month on a potential deal between wireless carriers Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc. No deal has been officially proposed yet between those companies.
On Thursday, Wheeler was asked whether he had similar concerns about the proposed tie-up between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
"It was an interesting situation in that Sprint/T-Mobile actually came to us and said: 'We're thinking about this, what do you think about it?' Comcast never did. So I'm in a position right now of sitting and waiting for Comcast to file their requisite documents so that we can begin our consideration," Wheeler said.
"We'll wait to give it a full, fair, open hearing."
Comcast, which pledged upfront to several concessions that federal regulators were likely to request, has maintained that customers will benefit from the merger as services and technology improve.
"All we can ask for is a full, fair, and open hearing - and I think Chairman Wheeler's message is that is what we will get," Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said in an interview on Thursday.
"In the broadband space and in the video space, we're not depriving a single consumer in America of a choice that he or she has today," Cohen told reporters after the deal was announced last week.