In Dodging FCC Review, AT&T's Time Warner Mega-Merger Just Got Much Easier Under Trump
from the merge-ALL-the-things! dept
There are about 100 AT&T lobbyists currently making the rounds in Washington, trying to convince regulators and the press that the deal will provide an incredible boon to consumers. The folks who actually try to protect consumers aren't so sure, arguing that a larger combined company could make it harder than ever for streaming competitors to license the content they need to compete with AT&T (and its own streaming service, DirecTV Now). And that's before you even get to the fact that AT&T's using usage caps to give its own services an unfair leg up in the market (aka zero rating).
But AT&T's path toward deal approval just got notably easier. While the deal will be reviewed by the DOJ, AT&T and Time Warner are configuring the deal so that it doesn't trigger any of the requirements for FCC review. As it stands, the FCC's jurisdiction would only extend to the deal with the transfer of certain spectrum licenses, or one of Time Warner's TV stations in Atlanta. But Time Warner just got done stating they'd be selling that station ahead of the merger. And new FCC boss Ajit Pai says he doesn't see the need for FCC involvement in the review process:
"Pai said that because the transaction will involve no license transfers, the merger would not come before the FCC. Last week, Time Warner said that it would sell its sole broadcast station, WPCH in Atlanta, to Meredith Broadcasting for $70 million. "That is the regulatory hook for FCC review. My understanding is that the deal won’t be presented to the commission.” Pai’s remarks came at the Mobile World Congress on Monday."
That, of course, leaves whether AT&T's latest mega-merger gets approved solely in the hands of the DOJ, with Trump as the wildcard. There's a certain segment of analysts that still thinks that Trump's disdain for Time Warner-owned CNN's news coverage could kill the deal (the President repeatedly promised to reject the deal on the campaign trail). But it's not clear these analysts quite understand the "synergies" this merger will provide AT&T (historically a pro at making bogus merger promises) and Trump (also an apparent expert at taking credit for job creation he had nothing to do with).
Trump and AT&T would be like a 70s supergroup -- with bullshitters instead of musicians. As such, I'd imagine the deal gets approved by the DOJ, but under an absolute cavalcade of public relation bloviation the likes of which we've never seen before -- all promising that the deal will create jobs, protect the nation's children, expand broadband deployment, and save the planet from potential alien invasion. AT&T, for its part, continues to promise in letters to concerned Senators (pdf) that this latest mega-merger is all "about giving consumers what they want":
"Put simply, this merger is about giving consumers what they want. Together, AT&T and Time Warner will create exciting new ways for consumers to enjoy video anytime, anywhere, and on any device, with unprecedented levels of customization and interactivity. The merger will allow us to offer customers more attractive bundles of broadband and video services, prodding cable companies and other competitors to respond by improving their own services. And the merger will further incentivize AT&T and other wireless carriers to deploy lightning-fast 5G wireless technology faster and deeper in their networks. As a result, this deal will increase competition and accelerate the innovation/investment cycle, all to the benefit of American consumers."
Doesn't that sound lovely? While reports still seem to suggest Trump personally opposes the deal, he's been appointing regulator chiefs at most key agencies that pride themselves on a "light regulatory touch," and for whom blocking such a deal would be dramatically out of character. Ultimately, it's likely that the opportunity for bogus job creation claims will be too hard for Trump to ignore, resulting in some cognitive dissonance gymnastics among those Trump supporters who actually took his campaign pledges to thwart harmful media consolidation seriously.