In a blow to the Justice Department, AT&T's planned acquisition of Time Warner Inc received a nod from a federal judge on Tuesday without any conditions, opening the door for companies such as Comcast Corp, and Verizon Communications Inc to pursue deals to buy creators of media content. The media world has been holding their breath for weeks, awaiting the final decision from Judge Richard Leon as to whether or not he would allow for the two companies to merge in a deal valued at more than $80 billion. The Justice Department could decide to appeal the ruling, however. The judge's ruling will reportedly let AT&T complete the purchase without spinning off any subsidiaries. Judge Leon even went so far as to urge the government not to seek a stay of his decision pending a possible appeal.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have raised questions about the Justice Department's motivations and the White House's influence in deciding to take the case to court.
Critics charged that Trump had come out against the deal because of Time Warner's CNN, which has been highly critical of his presidency.
As the owner of Time Warner, AT&T would be able to set the price that other cable or satellite companies must pay for a large quantity of TV programming. But the Department of Justice sued to block the $108 billion merger in November 2017, saying the deal is likely to raise consumers' TV bills. "We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative". The government alleged that by owning Time Warner, AT&T would have too much leverage in negotiations with television distributors, which would hurt competitors, harm innovation and could lead to increased cable prices for consumers. If he does not approve the deal, AT&T is expected to keep fighting.
Judge approves AT&T-Time Warner merger
It's also worth noting that President Trump has been publicly opposed to the deal since he was on the campaign trail.
The DOJ lost its antitrust lawsuit to block the vertical merger. With that added revenue, it could eventually lower the cost of its subscription services, the company argues.
Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge was disappointed by today's ruling.
In his decision, Leon weighed in on a case that carried political overtones, scrambled typical ideological alignments and triggered close attention from corporate executives beyond media. To assuage the Trump administration's criticisms, AT&T offered to submit pricing disagreements with other pay TV companies over Turner's channels to third-party arbitration. "If it's narrow, like 'I don't think Time Warner content is that must-have, ' that may have implications in a similar merger in the telecommunications space but may not have a drastic effect in other vertical mergers", said Caroline Holland, who was in the Antitrust Division during the administration of former President Barack Obama.