AT&T Defeats DOJ In Merger Fight, Opening The Door To Some Major Competitive Headaches

from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept

AT&T has defeated the DOJ in a court battle over whether or not the company will be allowed to acquire Time Warner for $86 billion.

In a ruling (pdf), U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon stated that the government failed to make its case that the merger would harm AT&T's competitors, most of which are now trying to keep pace in the streaming video space. Consumer advocates have routinely warned that AT&T will use its greater leverage to make must-have content (like Time Warner owned CNN or HBO) significantly more costly for companies hoping to compete with AT&T's own TV services, including its newish streaming video effort, DirecTV Now.

That a company with a thirty-year history of anti-competitive behavior will likely use this greater leverage to behave badly shouldn't have been a particularly hard case to make, suggesting that DOJ lawyers may have flubbed key components of its case. The DOJ sued to thwart the deal last November, and while the agency claimed it was to protect consumers, the incongruity with other Trump administration consumer policies (like, well, everything) have fueled speculation that Trump's disdain for Time Warner owned CNN, or his close relationship with Rupert Murdoch may have colored the DOJ's decision to sue.

It's an indisputable and massive win for AT&T, and the DOJ's first antitrust court loss since 2004. Leon didn't just kill the lawsuit, he didn't offer any conditions to mitigate potential anti-competitive problems, and largely urged the DOJ not to appeal. AT&T, as you might expect, was thrilled with the court's failure to block its latest megamerger:

"We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner. We thank the Court for its thorough and timely examination of the evidence, and we compliment our colleagues at the Department of Justice on their dedicated representation of the government. We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative."

Anybody that has witnessed AT&T's versions of "affordable" and "innovative" likely isn't to buy that claim. This is, after all, a company that thought it would be a good idea to charge consumers more money just to protect their own privacy. It's also the same company that has been repeatedly dinged by government for either ripping off its own customers, or turning a blind eye while all manner of others did. Not surprisingly, more consumer-oriented folks like former FCC staffer and consumer advocate Gigi Sohn had a decidedly different take on AT&T's court win:

"Big media conglomerates are the winners and consumers are the losers with Judge Leon’s decision. Merging AT&T, one of the largest cable, satellite and mobile broadband companies with Time Warner will lead to higher prices, fewer choices and perhaps more importantly, fewer voices. Coupled with the demise of the 2015 net neutrality rules yesterday, AT&T will be free to favor Time Warner content over its cable and its fixed and mobile broadband networks."

Numerous companies were waiting on the AT&T decision before pursuing their own, previously-unthinkable merger ambitions. Comcast, for example, has stated the company was holding off on making its $60 billion offer for Fox's remaining assets until it saw the outcome of the case. Sprint and T-Mobile are also considering a merger that's likely to reduce competition in wireless and kill tends of thousands of sector jobs.

It's not just the AT&T merger that's problematic. The wave of major consolidation this loss will trigger, combined with the death of net neutrality protections opens the door to an absolute ocean of bad behavior by companies that have already clearly documented they'll stop at nothing to keep real competition at bay. And while the rise of streaming competitors crafting original content may mitigate some of this, you'd have to be pretty naive to think AT&T's stranglehold over broadband and media, combined with Trump era regulatory capture ends particularly well for the consumers and small businesses caught in its wake.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2018 @ 3:19pm

    Don't worry

    It's fine! Everything is fine!

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

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 12 Jun 2018 @ 3:46pm

    This will be fun to watch...

    As they jack the prices up to where people can't afford them, and those people all cut the cord, and then piracy goes up ... how are they going to spin that?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2018 @ 3:53pm

      Re: This will be fun to watch...

      By that time they will be able to make it illegal to cut the cord.

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

      • identicon
        Iggy, 12 Jun 2018 @ 5:53pm

        Re: Re: This will be fun to watch...

        Sigh, oh well, I guess I'll just have to cuddle up with my shortwave radio while shopping for a free to air satellite dish for my entertainment needs.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2018 @ 3:51pm

    While the judge urged the DoJ not to appeal, is the expectation that they will listen to the judge's recommendation?

    Normally I wouldn't ask, but the current administration is unconventional in many respects and I figure it couldn't hurt to ask.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Jun 2018 @ 3:55pm

    Half Hearted

    One wonders if the DOJ took action in the least useful manner. Were there other arguments they could have made that might have been more effective? And, one wonders, where is the FTC in all of this? Aren't they supposed to be protecting...us?

    One argument is that more than one is considered competition. Whether it is effective competition is a bigger question. To me, three or four is not effective competition. 10 or 15 or 25 might be better. And consolidating one industry into another because there are 'competitors' out there means squat when the consolidation is into the delivery system. I know this is hard for highly paid (by the consolidators) bureaucrats to discern, but it is not that hard out here in the boonies.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2018 @ 4:24pm

    Worry not

    There is no reason to worry about this, because the free market will fix it. If the market is restrained by "regulations" it can't operate the way it's supposed to.
    Working correctly, you have a choice!
    Start your own carrier.
    Don't use a phone.
    Pay higher rates.

    It's working already!

    /s

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jun 2018 @ 6:35am

      Re: Worry not

      Can't get far without a clueless cunt like you blaming free-market for this shit, but that is the norm for TD crowd anyways.

      THERE IS NO FREE MARKET!!!

      You all destroyed it on the pyre of regulation. Instead of demanding stronger stronger laws FOR free market like anti-monopoly and anti-trust you all begged for free market destroying laws!

      In fact the usual tripe from losers like you is that yo are so afraid of a monopoly happening inside of a free market that you just go ahead and destroy the free market then bless the creation of the monopolies and then regulate them as such.

      Have you figure it out yet? You got played, you handed them the dagger they used to stab you in the fucking back! You silly fucks are so busy running to politicians to save you that you don't even see how they are all fucking you right in the ass!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2018 @ 5:39pm

    Trumpian Truth?

    That a company with a thirty-year history of anti-competitive behavior ...

    Actually, it would be a one hundred and thirty year history -- exactly one hundred and thirty years -- when the Bell Telephone Company was established, and then 34 years ago when "Ma Bell" was forcibly broken up into several (non-competing) entities. And yes, its anti-competitive behavior has been a mainstay of its entire existence.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Richard Bennett, 12 Jun 2018 @ 6:13pm

    Today's Big Lie

    Bode can go suck it.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Jun 2018 @ 6:33pm

      Re: Today's Big Lie

      Your dislike for some individual does not make your expression of that dislike persuasive to anyone else. Dislike him all you want, but unless you have something substantive to refute thing he says, just go into your corner of hate and stew.

      We certainly don't want to hear it, nor do we recognize it as anything worthwhile. You will be both flagged and ignored until you find some way to be positively expressive, with corroborating evidence of some opposite point of view.

      Don't bother responding, unless you comprehend the above, no one will hear you.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 12 Jun 2018 @ 7:56pm

        Re: Re: Today's Big Lie

        They're either a liar pretending to be someone they're not and slinging insults, or a liar 'only' slinging grade-school level insults. Either way, flag and ignore.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Jun 2018 @ 12:57am

          Re: Re: Re: Today's Big Lie

          I prefer to think of it as Dick's insistence that identity theft doesn't matter coming to bite him on the ass.

          The usage of "McBodeface" is pretty telling, though. Dumbfuck probably got tired of signing in if this is the kind of garbage he musters up the effort to spew.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 12 Jun 2018 @ 9:29pm

    Or, just to start a conspiracy theory, were the DOJ lawyers ordered by the Trump administration to flub the case?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Jun 2018 @ 11:50pm

      Re:

      It's possible I suppose, but if you're going to go down that route it seems it would have gone the other way, with him ordering them to bring the suit in the first place rather than deliberately botch it.

      The DOJ sued to thwart the deal last November, and while the agency claimed it was to protect consumers, the incongruity with other Trump administration consumer policies (like, well, everything) have fueled speculation that Trump's disdain for Time Warner owned CNN, or his close relationship with Rupert Murdoch may have colored the DOJ's decision to sue.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Jun 2018 @ 4:29am

    Someone sent their bill to their congress critter and ask why they aren't paying as much as us little people.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    cunts fuck vaginas and bums, 13 Jun 2018 @ 4:52am

    bum fucking vagina fucking bum fuckers cunts

    slut fucking bum fucking vagina fucking cunts. anal cunts

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


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