AT&T, Time Warner Merger Approved by Judge

AT&T, Time Warner Merger Approved by Judge

Before the trial started, AT&T lawyers said the Time Warner deal may have been singled out for government enforcement but Judge Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected their bid to force the disclosure of White House communications that might have shed light on the matter. The Justice Department sued to block the deal from going through in November of 2017, arguing that it would limit competition and raise prices.

The merger was approved without any conditions, a stunning rebuke of the government's case.

Leon, in his remarks during the ruling, strongly urged the government not seek a stay that would hold up the close of the deal.

The Justice Department has six days to ask the judge to stay his ruling, though Leon said he hoped the government would have the "good judgment, wisdom and the courage" not to do so. The purchase of Time Warner would give AT&T the premium television content it needed to make its bundle of wireless, television and broadband services more attractive to customers. A clear win for AT&T will embolden Comcast, the US's largest cable company, to top Walt Disney's $52bn bid for 21st Century Fox, the media empire controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family. Time Warner owns HBO, Warner Bros., and Turner Broadcasting System.

"AT&T/DirecTV would hinder its rivals by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for Time Warner's networks, and it would use its increased power to slow the industry's transition to new and exciting video distribution models that provide greater choice for consumers", the DOJ said in its complaint. The "drop dead" deadline for completing the merger is June 21. A loss for AT&T and Time Warner could have signaled a new era of government scrutiny over so-called "vertical mergers" and could have halted attempts by companies like Disney, Fox and Comcast to announce their own megadeals.

AT&T has said it needs to buy Time Warner to compete with the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Google in the shape-shifting streaming-TV environment.

The merger would create a media and telecommunications powerhouse, reshaping the landscape of those industries.

AT&T, Time Warner Merger Approved by Judge
AT&T, Time Warner Merger Approved by Judge

On the campaign trail in October 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump spoke in Gettysburg, Pa.

"We are disappointed that the court missed an opportunity to rein in the First Amendment-crushing mass media consolidation trend, which puts too much media power in the hands of too few", Manning said in a statement.

During the trial, the judge heard from dozens of witnesses, including AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes.

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said the decision was regrettable.

Updated 2:18 pm PT: This story was updated with comments from AT&T and the Justice Department.

The mega-merger is a high-stakes bet by AT&T Inc. on the synergy between companies that produce news and entertainment and those that funnel it to consumers.


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