Senate Democrats Raise Concerns About AT&T/Time Warner Merger

Al Franken Kathy Griffin
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A group of Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), are urging the Justice Department to reject AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner if the government determines that harms outweigh the benefits.

In their letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the senators said that they had concerns that the deal would further consolidate the pay-TV industry, leading to higher prices and less choice. They also say that any conditions put on the deal would be unreliable and unenforceable.

“Should you determine that the substantial harms to competition and consumers arising from the transaction outweigh the purported benefits, you should reject the proposed acquisition,” the senators said in their letter.

The letter was also signed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) signed the letter as well.

“We have strong concerns that the combined company’s unmatched control of popular content and the distribution of that content will lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and poorer quality services for Americans, substantial harms that cannot be remedied with unreliable, unenforceable and time-limited behavioral conditions,” the senators said in their letter.

It’s unclear exactly when the Justice Department, which is reviewing the transaction, will make public its decision.

“As the DOJ finalizes its review of the transaction, we call on you to defend American competition and innovation and ensure that Americans have open and affordable access to communications services, as well as a wide range of programming,” the senators wrote.

During the presidential campaign, President Trump said he would block the transaction, but has said little publicly about where he stands on the deal since he took office.

Makan Delrahim, Trump’s nominee to be in charge of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Shortly after the merger of AT&T and Time Warner was announced, he said that he didn’t think it posed a “major antitrust problem.” During his confirmation process, he said that he would maintain independence from the White House.

A spokesman for AT&T said, “We’ve addressed all of the issues raised by this letter in AT&T’s and Time Warner’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last January, in our February 2017 response to this same group of senators, as well as in the extensive review of this transaction currently in process at the Department of Justice.

“Specifically, we’ve highlighted how our merger is about giving consumers more choices, not less.  Our DirecTV Now product is a small example of how we can provide consumers more control over the content they purchase, and how, where and when they view content. We have also detailed how the transaction will expand distribution and creative opportunities for diverse and independent voices.  Finally, we continue to believe that free data services are a huge consumer benefit that saves consumers money.”