Department Of Justice To Sue To Block AT&T, Time Warner Merger

CEO Randall Stephenson said AT&T will not be party to any agreement that would “even give the perception of compromising the First Amendment.”

AT&T said Monday that USA antitrust enforcers filed suit to block its merger with Time Warner, setting up a major court battle over the US$85 billion tie-up.

Audio will be available later today.

AT&T and Time Warner are not direct competitors, but the lawsuit alleges that the $108 billion acquisition would substantially lessen competition - allowing AT&T to have distribution control over Time Warner's popular television programming.

That "combined power" would let AT&T "use its control over Time Warner's popular and valuable networks to hinder its rivals, by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for the right to distribute those networks", the official said.

AT&T has argued that the deal should be approved because it combines two companies that don't directly compete against each other, resulting in a so-called vertical merger.

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Some news reports have said DOJ would only allow the merger if AT&T disposed of either DirecTV or Turner Broadcasting, including CNN.

By testing the arrangement, the Justice Department is adopting a starkly unique strategy to antitrust issues than the Obama organization did.

The lawsuit also said AT&T and Comcast, which control nearly half of the pay-TV market, "would have an increased incentive and ability to harm competition by impending online competitors they consider a threat".

"Blocking this merger is the right thing to do - and we hope the Justice Department is doing it for the right reasons", said Craig Aaron, president of advocacy group Free Press, which opposes media industry consolidation. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said at the time that his company would not sell any assets and would fight the DOJ in court. He has not commented on the AT&T deal since his inauguration in January.

"This merger would greatly harm American consumers", said Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general for antitrust, said in a statement.

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