Trump’s DOJ Not Try­ing to Stop AT&T/Time Warner Merger

The Jewish Voice - - BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY -

De­spite Pres­i­dent Trump's prom­ise to block AT&T's pur­chase of Time Warner Inc., the gov­ern­ment's re­view of the merger has "reached an ad­vanced stage" The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported.

"The deal’s reg­u­la­tory re­view has hit a late-stage point where AT&T lawyers are dis­cussing merger con­di­tions with the Jus­tice De­part­ment," the re­port said, quot­ing peo­ple close to the sit­u­a­tion. If the Jus­tice De­part­ment con­cludes that any po­ten­tial harms from the merger can be off­set by con­di­tions, then it would not sue to block the deal.

"Among the top­ics raised in the gov­ern­ment’s re­view is en­sur­ing that AT&T doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate or treat chan­nels that com­pete with Time Warner's con­tent less fa­vor­ably, the peo­ple close to the sit­u­a­tion said," the Jour­nal wrote. "For ex­am­ple, the gov­ern­ment could pre­vent AT&T from fa­vor­ing HBO over other premium-TV brands in its mar­ket­ing and pric­ing, the peo­ple said."

Merger dis­cus­sions are also fo­cus­ing on AT&T's con­trol of cus­tomer data to tar­get ad­ver­tis­ing, with an­titrust of­fi­cials con­sid­er­ing whether AT&T should have to make that data "avail­able at a rea­son­able cost to ri­vals," the re­port said.

Se­nate Democrats urged the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to block the merger, say­ing that the com­bined AT&T/Time Warner con­trol over both dis­tri­bu­tion and con­tent "will lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and poorer qual­ity ser­vices for Amer­i­cans."

Trump's cam­paign prom­ise When he was cam­paign­ing for pres­i­dent, Trump said that AT&T/Time Warner is "a deal we will not ap­prove in my ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause it's too much con­cen­tra­tion of power in the hands of too few." Last month, there were re­ports that White House of­fi­cials have dis­cussed us­ing the merger re­view as "lever­age" against CNN, whose news cov­er­age has been fre­quently crit­i­cized by Trump. But Trump hasn't re­peated his prom­ise to block the merger since be­com­ing pres­i­dent.

One com­pli­ca­tion that could cause de­lay of the merger's ap­proval is that the Se­nate has not yet con­firmed Trump's nom­i­nee

to run the DOJ's an­titrust di­vi­sion. The nom­i­nee, for­mer DOJ an­titrust lawyer Makan Del­rahim, has said the AT&T/Time Warner deal does not pose a "ma­jor an­titrust prob­lem."

Del­rahim could be con­firmed by the Se­nate as early as Septem­ber. But an­titrust of­fi­cials might not even feel the need to wait that long to ap­prove the merger, as the dis­cus­sions have pro­ceeded to their cur­rent ad­vanced stage de­spite the an­titrust di­vi­sion's top spot sit­ting va­cant. "The Jus­tice De­part­ment can still make an­titrust de­ci­sions with­out Mr. Del­rahim, though a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee usu­ally has the fi­nal say on whether to chal­lenge a ma­jor trans­ac­tion," the Jour­nal re­port said.

The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion can stop merg­ers that don't ben­e­fit con­sumers, but the FCC de­cided not to re­view AT&T's pur­chase of Time Warner.

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