Legal Issues

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
doj, donald trump, fcc, ftc, merger, review, spectrum

Companies:
at&t, time warner



AT&T Intends To Dodge FCC Review Of Time Warner Mega-Merger, But Trump Remains A Wild Card

from the synergies-out-the-wazoo dept

AT&T continues to try and sell regulators on the company's $100 billion acquisition of Time Warner, making all kinds of promises (few actually being true). Consumer advocates are highly wary of the deal, arguing that a more powerful AT&T (with its rich history of anti-competitive behavior and outright fraud) would be in a perfect position to hinder streaming competitors from licensing the content they need to compete. That's of course when AT&T isn't busy giving its own DirecTV Now service an unfair market advantage via zero rating and usage caps.

But AT&T's path to merger completion just got a bit easier. Outlets had been noting for some time that an FCC review would only be triggered if AT&T attempted a transfer of the two dozen or so Time Warner satellite licenses or the station license for WPCH-TV in Atlanta. Avoid those, and you avoid even a possibility that the FCC could block the deal or saddle it with conditions. And that's precisely what AT&T appears intent on doing according to a new regulatory filing with the SEC:

“Time Warner has conducted a review of all licenses that it holds that are granted by the FCC,” says the company. “While subject to change, it is currently anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction.”

If, as AT&T contends, these licenses don’t need to be transferred — or if Time Warner divests itself of the licenses before merging — the companies seem to believe the FCC has no authority to intervene and review the merger.

The deal would still need approval from the Justice Department, but Donald Trump remains a bit of a wild card in AT&T's equation. Trump promised to block the deal in the lead up to the election, claiming "it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." But Trump's telecom transition team consists largely of folks interested in defunding and defanging regulators. These aren't exactly the kind of folks who'll be supporting government blockades of (or restrictive conditions attached to) telecom sector mega mergers. Neither is the most likely top FCC choice, Ajit Pai.

But there's a wrinkle. Trump may still block the deal, just for reasons other than what he claimed on the campaign trail. A recent New York Magazine column on Megyn Kelly contained an interesting tidbit, noting that Trump has turned to News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch for tips on choosing the next FCC boss. Murdoch's also urging Trump to block the deal as a favor to Murdoch and his obvious competitive interests:

If Fox News’ politics ultimately solidify as more pro-Trump than they were during the campaign, that might be to the benefit of Murdoch’s business interests. According to a well-placed source, Trump has asked Murdoch to submit names for FCC Chairman. Murdoch, another source said, also wants conditions put on the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and he could lobby Trump to make that happen.
In other words (assuming this report is correct), Trump could block the deal, but only to benefit Murdoch's own news empire, and not because it would protect consumers, smaller competitors, or the media and streaming markets. There's another possible factor as well. Bloomberg recently reported that Trump was opposed to the deal, but mainly because he's still bitter about CNN's coverage of his campaign -- and CNN is, of course, part of Time Warner. So there are still more "personal" reasons why Trump may want to block the merger. That's going to likely cause friction among Trump's own telecom sector and tech appointees, who have made it abundantly clear they don't want regulators doing much of anything outside of nodding dumbly and looking busy.

Regardless, AT&T remains publicly optimistic, insisting there's just no way regulators would dare block its latest megamerger; it's simply too fantastic:

"In the modern history of the media and the internet, the U.S. government has always approved vertical mergers like ours, because they benefit consumers, strengthen competition, and, in our case, encourage innovation and investment," AT&T executive VP and general counsel David McAtee said of the transaction.


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  1. icon
    TomZ (profile), 11 Jan 2017 @ 9:35am

    Lame baseless bias.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    TomZ (profile), 11 Jan 2017 @ 9:35am

    Lame baseless bias.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    TomZ (profile), 11 Jan 2017 @ 9:37am

    Lame baseless bias.

    So, based on no facts whatsoever, you propose that the new president, who campaigned against crony capitalism would turn around and engage in blatant democrat style crony capitalism.

    try harder next time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2017 @ 10:13am

    Re: Lame baseless bias.

    "... who campaigned against crony capitalism... "

    Hmmm... billionaire business associates placed in Cabinet positions... I think that covers both the "crony" and the "capitalism". Good job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    TomZ (profile), 11 Jan 2017 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Lame baseless bias.

    Ok, time to get out the dictionary to help out the uninformed.

    Crony capitalism is when you make political decisions in order to enrich your favored insiders (the cronies). For example, if your political backer was Warren Buffet who owns several railroads that transport oil, you might block a pipeline which would transport oils cheaper and safer.

    Cronyism is where you provide political posts for your favored insider. For example, the DNC had a list of ambassadorships which were to be awarded in HRC's white house, where the main criteria for the post was the amount of money donated. The difference between a crony and a regular qualified person is the impropriety of the relationship between the people and the belief that factors other than "working for the good of the country" are involved.

    In Trump's case, we have several billionaires whom trump knows going into his cabinet. But most of them are merely people he knows but does not have business relationships with. For example, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil. As a real estate developer, Trump did not do a lot of business directly with Exxon. Also, Tillerson didn't even donate to Trump's campaign, but instead supported Jeb Bush.

    Being rich and successful is not a bad thing in and of itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Ninja (profile), 11 Jan 2017 @ 11:37am

    Buy 'n' Large. Sometimes arts are prophetic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2017 @ 5:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Lame baseless bias.

    "Crony capitalism is when you make political decisions in order to enrich your favored insiders (the cronies)."

    "Hmmm... billionaire business associates placed in Cabinet positions... I think that covers both the "crony" and the "capitalism". Good job."

    Yes - yes indeed!

    I would like to add, the Presidency is not a family business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    LoveTD, 12 Jan 2017 @ 12:43am

    The FCC

    On thing about the FCC and potus, is that the potus controls the fcc head. Between the house funding and potus pressure the FCC could be re-directed overnight. Personally I would like to see the FCC board controlled/voted on by the voting public (in their interest, just like their original mission statement.)

    But as it is...it isn't the way it is.

    Another thought FCC out of CAT5 Cables. Let them manage power and freqs in the spectrum NOT PRIVATE WIRES ON LAND

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 6:21am

    what about anti-trust laws

    Don't we have laws to prevent monop....

    "Whamp"--smacked in the mouth by reality with a bag full of quarters!

    "People break laws everyday. Now sit down and shut up."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 13 Jan 2017 @ 7:32am

    Trump Is Being Monstered In The Sun

    Britain's horrible daily tabloid rag, The Sun, a Murdoch-owned effort, is merrily slagging Trump off on today's front page. There's nothing the Brits love more than a juicy sex scandal. I'd be interested to learn how this affects Murdoch's relationship with Trump...

    https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2602186/pms-new-brexit-ambassador-sir-tim-barrow-linked-to-don ald-trump-dirty-kremlin-dossier-amid-claims-he-handed-on-report/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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