WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressional Democrats unveiled a new economic agenda on Monday that includes a call for stricter antitrust laws and enforcement, citing the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger as an example of the type of concentration that may restrict competition.
“If AT&T succeeds in this deal, it will have more power to restrict the content access of its 135 million wireless and 25.5 million pay-TV subscribers,” the Democrats said in their economic plan. “This will only enable the resulting behemoths to promote their own programming, unfairly discriminate against other distributers and their ability to offer highly desired content, and further restrict small businesses from successfully competing in the market.”
The Democrats did not explicitly come out against the proposed $85 billion merger, but they do name it among other transactions in their call for stricter antitrust enforcement.
They call for merger standards that take a “broader, longer-term view” and “strong presumptions that market concentration can result in anticompetitive conduct.”
Among other things, they are calling for merger reviews to examine not just the potential for anticompetitive conduct, but also to look at whether such concentration would “reduce wages, cut jobs, lower product quality, limit access to services, or hinder the ability of small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete.” The largest of the mergers would be “presumed to be anticompetitive,” unless merging companies can justify the benefits of the deal.
Democrats are also proposing that regulators conduct independent reviews of mergers after they are approved, to ensure that conditions are being met.
The Democratic proposal — part of an economic plan called “A Better Deal” — cites the concentration of the cable and telecom business as an area where consumers now have few choices for internet providers and prices have continued to escalate.
“In fact, some reports have determined that Americans pay far more for high-speed internet access, cable television, and home phone lines than people in many other advanced countries — even though the services they receive are not any better,” the Democratic plan states. “And the largest companies rank the lowest on customer satisfaction rankings — they don’t need to improve their service because there is no competition.”
The Democrats also cite consolidation in other industries, like food, beer, airlines, and eyeglasses, that have seen increasing concentration.
The Justice Department is reviewing the AT&T-Time Warner merger, but its review is limited to antitrust enforcement. Some Senate Democrats have expressed concern about the deal, while President Donald Trump came out against it during the presidential campaign.