The European Commission has given AT&T the thumbs up for its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, meaning US regulators are the final hurdle for the deal.
Gaining approval from the European Commission was not an inconsequential step for the team, as the boresome bureaucrat has a habit of being awkward in situations which involve competition. The deal is now expected to close by the end of the year.
“This is an important approval from a highly respected authority,” said said Bob Quinn, SVP of AT&T’s External and Legislative Affairs. “The global clearance process is on track, and we look forward to creating a company that will lead the next wave of innovation in the media and telecommunications industries.”
Although it has been a long road to this point, the AT&T team still has to navigate the complicated waters of US regulation, however it is in a relatively positive position there. The concerns and opposition of President Trump to the deal on the campaign trail may have initially been a worry for the AT&T legal team, though it has found a relatively creative route.
AT&T may have been concerned over the role of the FCC, as it has the power to veto such transactions should they not be in the public interest. What constitutes as damaging to the public interest is a grey area, left open to interpretation, a phrase dreading by lawyers around the world who live by the definite language of the law. Such uncertainties are a lawyers worst nightmare.
The FCC only gets involved in such transactions when communications licences are transferred between two organizations, however AT&T filed a document that stated the licences would still remain in the Time Warner business. The FCC has no reason to get involved, therefore approval would only have to be sought from the US Department of Justice, which is based purely on precedent (a lawyers dream). As Time Warner agreed to sell its TV station in Atlanta last month, there doesn’t seem to be any competition concerns remaining.
Although it does look like it should be relatively smooth sailing through to the completion of the deal from now onwards, who knows what could happen. As Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo has shown, screw ups can hardly be predicted.