Judge Threatens to Hold up Comcast-NBCUniversal Merger Approval

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NEW YORK - Comcast's acquisition of a 51 percent stake in NBCUniversal closed at the end of January, but a federal judge is threatening to hold up court approval of the antitrust settlement that allowed the deal, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Usually, such merger settlements between companies involved in a deal and the Justice Department are reviewed by a federal court and routinely approved.

However, the Journal said that a federal judge has the power to undo an agreement or force changes. If a judge refuses to sign off on a deal settlement, the Justice Department can appeal or the parties could renegotiate the settlement, it added.

Judge Richard Leon in federal court for the District of Columbia criticized the arbitration terms for online content distributors in the deal between Comcast, led by chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, and NBCUniversal's former controlling shareholder General Electric.

Online distributors, which were concerned about future access to NBCUniversal content, can disagree with Comcast about program licensing terms and go to binding arbitration, but agreements reached in that process can't be appealed.

"I'm giving you fair notice I'm not sure I'm going to sign this," Leon said, according to the Journal. "My concerns are such that because of the arbitration it's not in the public interest."

The companies and the Justice Department will try to clarify why they came up with the arbitration process, the paper said.

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