Clinton, Trump actually agree on something – blocking AT&T's Time Warner mega-buy

No matter who wins US prez race, merger faces rocky ride

AT&T's proposed $84.5bn acquisition of Time Warner is already facing a gauntlet of opposition from government officials and activists.

With the announcement of the deal less than 48 hours old, both leading presidential candidates have indicated they would oppose the merger after taking office due to concerns of over-consolidation in the market.

Speaking on the Meet the Press television program Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton's vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine said he and Clinton would have concerns about the merger and would need to "get to the bottom" of the proposal, adding "less concentration, I think, is generally helpful, especially in the media."

In a profoundly rare occurrence this year, Republican party nominee Donald Trump agreed with the rival Clinton camp, issuing an even stronger condemnation of the deal while on a campaign stop.

"Comcast's purchase of NBC concentrates far too much power in one massive entity that is trying to tell the voters what to think and what to do," Trump was quoted as saying. "Deals like this destroy democracy."

The acquisition also looks to face opposition from those already in office on Capitol Hill. Senator Al Franken (D‑MN) said that he was "skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers," while fellow Senator Bernie Sanders (I‑VT) called on the Obama administration to intervene:

Advocacy groups also wasted little time lining up against the acquisition. Public Knowledge says it believes the pairing of Time Warner with AT&T and DirecTV services could end up presenting a danger to consumers.

"Vertical integration between programming and distribution in particular raises a number of issues: DirecTV, for instance, might favor Time Warner content, crowding out or refusing to carry alternative and independent programming that viewers might prefer," Public Knowledge senior counsel John Bergmayer said.

"AT&T might also make it more expensive or difficult for competitors to DirecTV or to its streaming service to access Time Warner programmer, hoping to drive customers to its own platforms."

While the proposition of merging Time Warner and AT&T could have major implications on the media space in the US, it would not have such a profound impact on the communications and networking markets, and in fact may not even require the approval of the FCC in order to go through.

Because the $84.5bn package does not include the spun-off Time Warner Cable business, no internet or telco services would be involved in the deal. Additionally, because Time Warner only controls a single broadcasting license that is subject to FCC oversight, the two sides could potentially drop that piece from the deal and look to skirt the FCC approval process entirely.

This, in turn, would mean the US Department of Justice would be the sole government authority to determine whether the merger would be harmful for consumers. ®


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