AT&T - Time Warner merger approval appealed by Justice Deparment today

Saturday, 14 Jul, 2018

Rest assured, this battle is far from over.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon hadn't imposed any conditions on the deal, meaning AT&T wouldn't be required to divest of any of Time-Warner's properties, and at the time urged the Justice Department not to seek a stay.

David McAtee, AT&T's general counsel, said the company is "ready to defend" the judge's decision.

A court could theoretically force AT&T and Time Warner to reverse the merger.

In his almost 200-page opinion approving the merger, Judge Leon said that if the government asked him to stay the court order while the Justice Department appealed the case - in other words, to keep the merger on hold during the appeals process - he would refuse to do so. The DOJ did not, but left open the question of whether it would still appeal.

A Justice Department win at the appeals level would undo a stinging rebuke for the government and vindicate the decision by the head of the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, to challenge the Time Warner takeover. AT&T is a phone, cable and satellite behemoth that became the biggest pay-TV provider in the US with its acquisition of DirecTV in 2014.

However, that apparently was not enough to satisfy the DoJ, which declined to comment. It has been renamed WarnerMedia, and AT&T has rolled out a $15-a-month streaming service that heavily uses some of the content owned by WarnerMedia. AT&T asserted during the trial that it needed to grow to survive in the era of Google, Amazon and Netflix. When the deal was first made public in October 2016, it drew fire from then-candidate Donald Trump, who promised to kill it "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few". Already the ruling has started opening the floodgates to deal making in the fast-changing worlds of entertainment production and distribution.

Leon ruled that the tie-up between AT&T's wireless and satellite businesses with Time Warner's movies and television shows was legal under antitrust law.