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House To Investigate Whether DOJ's AT&T Antitrust Lawsuit Was Political

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

When the Trump DOJ sued to stop AT&T's $89 billion merger with Time Warner last year, more than a few eyebrows were raised. After all, the DOJ's antitrust suit, allegedly a bid to protect consumers, came as other arms of the Trump administration were busy utterly dismantling a wide variety of popular consumer protections (like net neutrality) at the direct request of industry. It raised the question: why suddenly care about consumer protection and antitrust power when you've shown absolutely no general concern for those concepts previously?

As a result, there's always been a lingering question as to whether Trump's obvious disdain for Time Warner owned CNN was driving a petty bid for vengeance. Others wondered if the DOJ's lawsuit was a personal favor to Trump ally Rupert Murdoch, who had tried unsuccessfully to buy CNN from AT&T at least twice, and had spent much of 2017 lobbying Trump to scuttle the deal as a competitive favor to his Fox empire.

With a shakeup in the House, those questions could soon again be making headlines. Incoming House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff told Axios last weekend that one of the numerous things the new House leadership will investigate is whether the DOJ's antitrust lawsuit against AT&T was political:

"Schiff said Congress also needs to examine whether Trump attempted to block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner as payback to CNN.

"We don't know, for example, whether the effort to hold up the merger of the parent of CNN was a concern over antitrust or whether this was an effort merely to punish CNN," Schiff said.

To be clear, AT&T's monopoly power is clearly a problem and, regardless of the motivation, it's a good thing the DOJ tried to stop it.

AT&T's domination of both fixed broadband, wireless broadband, and its monopoly over the backhaul connections feeding everything from cellular towers to ATMs was already causing headaches. The company's expanded ownership of "must have" media properties only made things worse by causing new anti-competitive problems for competitors like Dish. Combine these with the death of net neutrality, AT&T's past behaviors, and the FCC's fresh inability to hold AT&T accountable for any of it -- and the over-arching market issues should be pretty clear.

Ultimately the DOJ lost its case for several reasons. Antitrust laws weakened after decades of lobbying left the DOJ arguing obvious outcomes (like AT&T raising rates on competitors and consumers) within narrow confines of economic theory. And because the DOJ didn't want to highlight the fact the Trump admin was harming these same consumers with its other hand (net neutrality), it simply avoided mentioning the idea at all. That's an obvious issue since AT&T's domination of both the media and its broadband monopoly will work synergistically to harm competitors and consumers alike.

Regardless, the Trump DOJ suddenly and exclusively caring about AT&T's monopoly power was always curious. And while many will be sure to suggest that any investigation of the motivation is itself political, it's a question that would be nice to have answered all the same -- since using "instruments of state power" like the DOJ to settle petty grievances with media outlets you don't like is kind of a fucking problem.

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Filed Under: adam schiff, antitrust, congress, doj, mergers, politics
Companies: at&t, time warner


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2018 @ 6:45am

    state power abuses

    " -- since using "instruments of state power" like the DOJ to settle petty grievances with media outlets you don't like is kind of a fu**ing problem. "



    so the core/summary issue presented here is not really AT&T or Trump -- it's general abuse of government power.
    Odd to see the libertarian view as a primary post here.

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