Friday, 15 December, 2017

US Sues to Block AT&T-Time Warner Mega Merger

Justice Dept. sues to stop AT&T’s $85B Time Warner deal Justice Dept. sues to stop AT&T’s $85B Time Warner deal
Juana Turner | 24 November, 2017, 01:07

"Suffice it to say, we gave it a very good faith effort to try to resolve the harm the government was able to find and still allow for portions, significant portions I will add, of this vertical merger to go forward", a DOJ official said. AT&T could force current rivals to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more to place its new channels on their platforms, a cost that would likely be pushed off onto consumers.

"Today's DOJ lawsuit is a radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent", he said.

Still, the aide said that he was "really glad that Randall Stephenson" - the CEO of AT&T - "publicly stated, and explicitly said, nobody at the division has ever demanded the sale of CNN".

The president's position has led AT&T to criticise the move as political and a departure from common USA competition practice. Comcast, the US's largest broadband provider, took over NBC Universal, owner of the NBC network and Universal Studios in 2009 and that deal has been roundly criticised by senators who believe Comcast has used its cable dominance to quash competition.

Makan Delrahim, the top antitrust regulator at the Justice Department, said in a speech last week that he plans to crack down on vertical mergers, such as the AT&T deal, that involve companies that don't directly compete with each other.

Stephenson said the deal had "the whole world" questioning what the justice department "can and cannot do".

The US president, Donald Trump, has objected to the deal for some time, mentioning it in his presidential campaign, and has been a vocal critic of liberal news network CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.

"While reports of political pressures regarding this deal are concerning, the fact remains that there are serious, legitimate reasons this merger should be blocked", said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. A DOJ official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a pending legal case, said Monday that the government is still willing to work with AT&T on "structural relief", or selling off assets. Sinclair is a conservative-leaning company. "We are confident that the Court will reject the Government's claims and permit this merger under longstanding legal precedent", McAtee said.

Delrahim, the antitrust chief, has previously expressed a preference for requiring companies to sell off assets rather than allowing mergers to proceed with conditions on the merged company's behavior.

The US authorities had already called for major changes before signing off on any deal. For example, the FCC fined Comcast $800,000 for not doing enough to let customers know they could just get internet as a standalone service.

"The proposed merger would result in fewer innovative offerings and higher bills for American families". Comcast only operates in certain regions. The Justice Department also sued to block its $39 billion bid of T-Mobile, a direct competitor, in August 2011.

The government's move claiming a violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act comes after unsuccessful negotiations explored whether AT&T could do anything to satisfy government concerns. AT&T walked away months later.

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