AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are reportedly making headway in their discussions about the former’s Time Warner merger despite the Senate’s failure to confirm an antitrust chief for the agency and President Donald Trump’s previous opposition to the deal.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, discussions between AT&T and the DOJ have reached an “advanced stage,” with the pair working to hash out merger conditions. Though the process is confidential, AT&T General Counsel David McAtee commented that the proceedings are “on track from our perspective.” AT&T previously indicated it expects to wrap up the deal by the end of this year.
The report says the DOJ’s antitrust arm is looking for AT&T to address a handful of key concerns. Those include making sure the operator doesn’t favor its own content over that of competitors, and ensuring AT&T will make customer data available to rivals at a fair price. The former concern was previously flagged by Starz, which noted the issue back when AT&T offered HBO as a free add on for its unlimited customers. At that time, Starz programming remained at its add-on price of $8 per month.
The ongoing discussions continue despite the absence of an antitrust chief at the DOJ. The Senate failed to confirm Trump’s pick for the slot, Makan Delrahim, before leaving for its August recess. The Senate doesn’t head back to Capitol Hill until September 5.
The forward movement of the conversations also comes despite Trump’s pushback on the deal during his presidential campaign. As of January, reports indicated Trump was still opposed to the deal, though he did meet with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson that month to discuss “how AT&T can work with the Trump administration to increase investment in the U.S.” and “stimulate job creation in America.”
Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche earlier this year noted Trump’s opinion will likely have little impact on the Justice Department’s decision, but observed that fact doesn’t mean the administration won’t try to wield some influence.
Still, Fritzsche and Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner both observed the DOJ has “never stopped a vertical merger in the telecom/media space.”
More on why AT&T is pursuing the Time Warner deal and what its industry implications might be can be found here.
Filed Under: Industry regulations