Thursday, 16 August, 2018

AT&T gets to buy Time Warner in legal win over Justice Department

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Jean Garcia | 13 June, 2018, 01:19

A United States federal judge on Tuesday cleared the mega merger between AT&T and Time Warner in an antitrust case with potential far-reaching implications.

The Justice Department, which may still appeal the decision, sued the companies in November, arguing that the tie-up could be used to suppress competition and raise prices for consumers. However, now that the AT&T deal has been approved by a federal judge, there is precedent for such a deal and Comcast believes it won't be blocked.

President Trump's Justice Department had pushed back hard against the deal - claiming it would give AT&T too much leverage, which would result in consumers facing increases in their pay-TV bills.

In denying any attempt by the government to seek a stay of his ruling during appeal, Leon said AT&T and Time Warner "understandably fear the government will now seek to do indirectly what it couldn't accomplish directly". Last fall, he presented AT&T and Time Warner with two options: Sell the majority stake in either DirecTV or Turner Broadcasting.

Comcast reportedly is looking to make an offer to purchase 21st Century Fox the day after AT&T's merger comes into play. He noted that Time Warner owned CNN, and then declared his opposition to the $85 billion proposed sale.

USA district judge Richard Leon dismissed the antitrust case brought by the justice department last November, the culmination of a 20-month ordeal that has seen the deal attacked by Donald Trump, critics of media consolidation and consumer groups.

Virginia's 2018 Midterm Primary is Tuesday
In Arlington County, voters will choose between two Democrats to run against incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt (I). Democrats have targeted Comstock as a vulnerable seat in the House of Representatives .

It also appointed a new chief executive officer earlier this month, Hans Vestberg, the company's chief technology officer, in a move that signaled Verizon would likely double down on its existing telecommunications business. And the company said it plans to close the merger, which was announced a year and a half ago, on or before June 20.

Some critics of President Trump have questioned whether the case was brought as political payback against Time Warner's CNN for unfavorable coverage of President Trump, who often called the cable news channel "fake news".

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

AT&T and Time Warner said they need to combine in order to better compete with Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Google (GOOG), companies that are already powerhouses in the content game.

"The judge's sweeping rejection of the government's case doesn't surprise us at all", AT&T attorney Daniel Petrocelli told reporters outside of the courthouse shortly after the decision was issued. AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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 - who spend more time watching video on phones and tablets and less time on traditional live TV on a big screen.

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