Despite what Randall Stephenson pictures, the Department of Justice’s suit barrier AT& T from acquiring Time Warner’s assets in an $85 billion consolidation is a significant minute for antitrust in America. It’s belatedly, but it’s welcome.
Susan Crawford is a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of The Responsive City and Captive Audience.
Stephenson, the AT& T CEO, has no one but himself to blame. He and his minions effectively tanked their own plans to merge their company–the largest major pay-TV provider in the country and the second-largest wireless carrier–with Time Warner’s must-have cable paths and boasts rights. AT& T, a company that sees of government as, at best, a peer, approached the negotiations with an imperious posture that misread the history of similar administers, and, most egregiously, misread the person who would be clearing the ultimate order, the skilled brand-new governor of DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim.
Example: Here’s Stephenson reacting to the story earlier this month that Justice Department staff member had said that the uniting could go through only if the Time Warner Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes CNN, was structurally withdrawn from the batch: “I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so.” He seemed offended. He said it is “illogical for me to think that this deal doesn’t get approved.”
Those were extraordinary things to say. AT& T doesn’t own Time Warner, even though Stephenson confidently told the SEC in a public filing that he expected the distribute to close by the end of next month. AT& T had more than measured the drapes; Time Warner employees had already moved on. But AT& T required government approval.
AT& T jeopardized itself by failing to respect DOJ staff that learned key lessons learned in the monstrous uniting of Comcast with NBCU in 2011: So-called “vertical” consolidations between big content and transmitting firms can have noxious consequences for buyers, even if the uniting does not remove a competitor from the field. The organization has get the message that, in this heavily concentrated, depressed, and essentially noncompetitive marketplace, trying to smooth over illegal consolidations with conditions and ongoing oversight doesn’t handiwork. That’s why, be a primary consideration in years of staff ordeal and irritation with Comcast/ NBCU, DOJ’s antitrust front Delrahim has litigated to impede AT& T from ending its deal.