AT&T/Time Warner vs. Department of Justice; bout set for March 19

Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia has set a date for the antitrust trial to finally settle AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner and the Department of Justice’s wobbly.

What started as a relatively simple acquisition process for AT&T has quickly turned into a nightmare as the DoJ sued both the telco and Time Warner in an attempt to block an acquisition it views as anticompetitive. There is a glimmer of hope the saga might be resolved by the April deadline set by the two companies to complete the acquisition, but Judge Leon has warned any optimists should not hold their breath.

AT&T had been pushing for an earlier trial date due to the looming deadline on April 22. Should the acquisition not have completed by this time, the telco would have to fork out an extra $500 million to Time Warner investors. That said, it is not unusual for companies to agree deadline extensions, and this is certainly a situation which would warrant it.

Earlier this year, everything was rosy. AT&T was securing approvals all over the world for the deal, and it had found a couple of routes around US watchdogs to ease the regulatory process. Prior to the summer, few of the AT&T execs would have been worried about the April 22 deadline, but how things have changed.

President Trump has very vocal about his opposition to the deal, though a couple of commentators have pinned this down to his hatred of CNN (owned by Time Warner), and the Department of Justice has sued both parties. These lawsuits are seemingly built on the idea that AT&T would charge its rivals extortionate amounts of cash to access popular content, such as Game of Thrones. What is unclear is how much the DoJ has been influenced by the opinion of the Commander in Chief.

One comfort for AT&T is Judge Leon himself. The judge is known for handling high profile cases, and also a no-nonsense attitude towards basically anyone and everything. Politically he also appears to be pretty neutral.

What we find quite amusing is the government’s self-righteous stance on consumer protection when the Trump-led administration seems to be doing everything its power to destroy consumer protection when it comes to net neutrality and privacy. The current administration has continued to grant more powers and less accountability to intelligence agencies, while simultaneously scaling back all net neutrality regulation.

In terms of the net neutrality story, a lighter touch to regulation was probably a sensible decision to make, telcos have to be allowed to make money after all, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seems to have seen the line and sprinted as far past it as possible. Removing all net neutrality regulations is probably going too far, but that is the partisan nature of American politics. It’s all a game where the goal is to beat the politicians on the other side of the isle rather than help the American people.

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