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The Federal Communications Commission's staff has recommended that agency set up a hearing over Comcast's proposed $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Quoting people familiar with the matter, the newspaper reports that the recommendation would put the merger in the hands of an administrative law judge. The move could be seen as a strong sign that the FCC does not believe the deal is in the public interest, the Journal reported.

Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of NBC News and CNBC. The merger with Time Warner Cable would combine the nation's two largest cable companies, which do not directly compete against each other in any markets. Opponents, however, have particularly focused on the combined company's broadband market reach, worried about its potential gatekeeping power.

The FCC has to decide that the deal is in the public interest and the Justice Department has to rule that it does not harm competition for the merger to go through. Comcast has pushed back against criticisms, arguing the deal would bring faster Internet speeds and better video services to more consumers.

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-- CNBC and Reuters contributed to this story.