Seven groups from both sides of the political spectrum asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop AT&T from buying Time Warner if, the groups wrote, “as it appears, [the proposed deal] would substantially harm competition, [we urge the government] not to allow it to go forward unless those harms can be effectively prevented.”
Political Foes Ask AT&T-TW Be Stopped
(Satellite Business News) — In a highly unusual move, groups from both sides of the political spectrum joined together Thursday to essentially urge the federal government to block AT&T’s pending acquisition of Time Warner. Their position was expressed in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Though the groups did not outright demand the transaction be prevented, they all but asked the Justice Department to stop AT&T from buying Time Warner. If, the groups wrote, “as it appears, [the proposed deal] would substantially harm competition, [we urge the government] not to allow it to go forward unless those harms can be effectively prevented.”
As reported, though the two companies this week extended the one-year self-imposed deadline for closing the transaction, AT&T again said this week it still plans on finalizing its Time Warner purchase by the end of December. Counting today, that is now 66 days away.
The letter was signed by four conservative, if not right-wing groups: Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Limited Government, the American Family Association, and Frontiers of Freedom. It was also signed by groups who most would consider liberal and hence disagree on almost issues with the conservative groups: the Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, and the Writers Guild of America-West.
In the letter, the groups admitted their differences. They noted their “opinions diverge significantly on many policy issues, [but] we are united in our desire to ensure that free expression is not threatened by an increasingly limited number of companies that dominate U.S. media.”
The groups wrote that “AT&T and Time Warner are already massive media conglomerates in their own rights. AT&T’s 2015 purchase of DirecTV made it the country’s top pay-TV firm, the number two wireless provider, and the No. 3 broadband company.
Time Warner, meanwhile, owns CNN and HBO, three of the top five general entertainment [national programming] networks, and the second largest movie studio in Warner Brothers.” The groups added they were “deeply concerned that allowing these firms to join forces — without significant conditions that fully address all competitive concerns — would intolerably limit consumers’ control over what they watch and where they get their information.”
They argued, “The First Amendment is the bulwark of political discourse, and the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger will necessarily further restrict the diversity of speech which strengthens our nation as it becomes in the new company’s interest to promote select channels over alternative outlets.”
The groups also reiterated the often stated concerns expressed by most opponents of the transaction that AT&T could gain an advantage over other firms, especially when promoting its own data services.
“AT&T would have the power to give preference to its newly owned news and entertainment channels, while relegating competitors to less desirable channel locations and imposing higher costs on them or keeping them off their services altogether,” the groups wrote in their letter.
They also argued that rural residents could be hurt if the deal is approved. “The company could also harm rural viewers in particular by using its size and assets to make programming more costly to Dish [Network], the main satellite competitor to DirecTv.”
In the end, they argued it is “the government’s responsibility to protect competition in media markets, where it also protects the values underlying the First Amendment.” The government is widely expected to approve the AT&T-Time Warner deal.
At press time, no response to the letter from AT&T had been received.
Satellite Business News is a leader in coverage of satellite TV and related fields. Its FaxUPDATE is published three times a week. To subscribe, email FaxUPDATE@satbiznews.com.