HARTFORD, CT — Sen. Bob Duff and Rep. Derek Slap are teaming up to ask Connecticut’s attorney general to investigate and possibly file a separate lawsuit to block the AT&T and Time Warner merger.
No state has yet decided to join the anti-trust lawsuit that opens today.
The estimated $85.4 billion acquisition was almost completed until the U.S. Justice Department stepped in to block it last November. One theory for the last-minute decision was that since Time Warner owns CNN, a network President Donald Trump hates that Justice is stepping in to block it as a favor to the president.
“Sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons,” Duff and Slap wrote in a letter to Attorney General George Jepsen. “President Trump’s well known animus against CNN has fueled his opposition to the deal. Many people are speculating that DOJ is suing to block the merger to curry favor with the President.”
However, the judge hearing the case has not allowed AT&T’s discovery requests for any White House communications on the matter.
The government says the merger will be bad for consumers and that’s why it’s attempting to block it outright.
“Consumers will end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars more than they do now to watch their favorite programs on TV,” the Justice Department stated in court filings.
AT&T, the telecommunications giant, which owns DirecTV and U-verse, argues that it would benefit consumers. They say Justice is using a false narrative to make assumptions about how it would operate. They argue the merger is necessary to compete with big tech giants like Google, Amazon, and even Apple, which are beginning to move toward their own streaming services and television programming.
Connecticut lawmakers worry more about what the merger would mean for net neutrality.
“It is impossible to assess the AT&T/ Time Warner merger without taking into consideration the impact that the Trump Administration FCC’s proposed net neutrality rollback would have,” Duff and Slap wrote. “AT&T is the third-largest broadband provider in the United States, with 15.7 million subscribers. And they own DirecTV, by far the largest satellite television provider with over 20 million subscribers. If the Trump Administration is successful in fully implementing its net neutrality repeal, but is unsuccessful in blocking the AT&T / Time Warner merger, it would create a nightmare scenario for consumers.”
Jaclyn Severance, a spokeswoman for Jepsen, thanked the lawmakers for their letter.
“Since it was announced over a year ago, we have carefully evaluated the AT&T/Time Warner merger from an antitrust perspective, including its potential impacts with respect to the availability of content through streaming or other delivery means,” Severance said. “We have undertaken that review in connection with a number of other states as is typical for a merger of national scope. While no state, to this point, has concluded that joining the DOJ’s lawsuit to block the merger is warranted, our review remains open. As a result, we cannot comment further at this time on that matter. As the letter notes, we continue to work with a coalition of states to challenge in court the FCC’s effort to repeal net neutrality protections. That challenge, which is in its early stages, remains a matter of high priority for our office.”
The trial, which is expected to start this week in U.S. District Court in D.C., will last an estimated two months. It’s a bench trial which means Judge Richard Deon, who approved the 2011 merger between Comcast and NBCUniversal, will decide the case.