Comcast Corp and NBC Universal executives said on Friday they hope to submit documents to antitrust and communications regulators in January.
Experts say that the $30 billion deal faces a long and intense regulatory review that will likely end in approval only after the cable giant agrees to some concessions involving prices for rivals to access NBCU's television shows and movies.
It is not yet known which antitrust regulators will review the transaction, which if approved could create a media superpower. Experts think approval could take a year.
Several members of Congress have raised concerns about how the partnership in which Comcast would buy a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co will treat online content and affect customers' wallets.
The U.S. government's concern will likely focus on ensuring Comcast's rivals, like Verizon Communications Inc, DISH Network Corp and smaller cable operators, can continue to access NBC Universal's programs at a fair price.
Comcast is the biggest cable and Internet service provider in the United States.
Representative Rick Boucher, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, said he will hold a hearing next year to make sure the venture is in consumers' interests.
We welcome regulatory scrutiny and we welcome congressional hearings because that gives us the opportunity to make our case and we think it's a very compelling case, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said in a briefing with reporters.
Cohen and Rick Cotton, NBC Universal's executive vice president and general counsel, said they expect documents outlining the deal would be filed with antitrust regulators and the Federal Communications Commission, which reviews broadcast license transfer applications, within 30 to 45 days.
Cohen told reporters he did not yet know which of the antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission would review the transaction.
Both predicted a timetable for regulatory approval within nine to 12 months. However, if a year passes without approval, Cohen said that the companies have the option to extend the deal for six months for total time frame of 18 months.
Public interest groups, nonetheless, have urged the Obama administration to keep its commitment to reinvigorate U.S. antitrust laws by rejecting the proposed deal outright.
They fear that Comcast might charge other cable distributors higher fees to transmit NBC Universal-owned content, leading to higher cable bills.
Cohen also took issue with arguments that Comcast customers' bills might increase.
I don't understand how anyone can believe that anything in this transaction affects what we can do on the distribution side with our customers, Cohen said. Nothing is changing on the distribution side. We're not adding a single customer as a result of this transaction.
I can absolutely, definitively say prices are not going to go up for Comcast customers any more or less than they would have without this transaction.
(Reporting by John Poirier, additional reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Matthew Lewis)