DOJ antitrust lawsuit seeks to block AT&T, Time Warner merger

 In U.S.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is launching an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T in an effort block its proposed $85 billion takeover of Time Warner.

DOJ officials say the proposed deal would harm competition, increase prices for consumers, and reduce innovation in the media industry.

Time Warner’s network portfolio includes HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, and Cinemax, among others, and according to the DOJ’s case, the “combined company would abuse its control to hinder its rivals by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions more per year for the rights to distribute those networks.”

“The only appropriate action is to seek an injunction from a federal judge to block the merger,” a DOJ official said. When pressed, the DOJ said the antitrust action was in no way influenced by the White House or President Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with CNN.

In a press briefing Monday afternoon, AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said the company has no intention to settle with the Department of Justice.

“Obviously, we’re surprised to be here, and candidly, I’m a bit troubled by it,” he said. The lawsuit, he said, “stretches the very reach of antitrust law beyond the breaking point.”

Stephenson added that the lawsuit “comes at a time when the communications and media industries are undergoing rather radical change.”

He cited major companies such as Netflix and Amazon that are distributing content to huge audiences, as well as the creation and distribution of content from tech giants Google and Facebook. By comparison, the suggestion that the combination of AT&T and and Time Warner would create unlawful media power “defies logic and is unprecedented,” Stephenson said.

While AT&T does not intend to settle in court, Stephenson said the company has and will continue to offer “concrete solutions” that could resolve legitimate concerns. He declined to specify what kind of solutions AT&T would consider.

Stephenson did say that any agreement requiring the combined company to forfeit control of CNN, either directly or indirectly, “is a nonstarter.”

“We cannot and we will not be party to any agreement that would give even the perception of compromising the First Amendment protection of the press,” Stephenson said, addressing speculation that the lawsuit is related to President Trump’s displeasure with CNN.

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