AT&T and Time Warner, or at least representatives from each of the two companies, are reportedly now in talks with US antitrust officials with a view to helping the acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T go through. The news comes from a report out of Bloomberg, which in turn credits “people familiar with the matter” for the confirmation of the still ongoing talks.
As it is understood, the US antitrust officials are specifically interested in agreeing with AT&T conditions which would allow the acquisition to receive its approval from antitrust regulators. Conditions which will also look to satisfy ongoing accusations that AT&T would wield too much power through the receipt of Time Warner and its various attachments, such as HBO. Some of those accusations have suggested that AT&T could use its ownership of Time Warner’s entities to ensure that AT&T’s services - or more specifically customers - benefit more than non-AT&T services/customers. Likewise, AT&T could in effect, slow down user speeds for those opting for alternate and competing services like Netflix, but not for example, HBO. Or alternatively, use a marketing strategy where DIRECTV (also owned by AT&T) favored the likes of HBO over other competitive services. While AT&T has not suggested any of these actions will take place, it is these types of issues that are concerning some. As a result, it seems the conditions that the US antitrust officials are looking to attach to its approval, would be ‘good behavior’ gestures where AT&T agrees not to do certain things that could lead to lesser competition, reduced choice, and/or forced price increases.
While at the moment this is still only a report with talks said to be at an “early-stage,” this does tie-in with a report that came through almost one month ago suggesting that the acquisition could receive antitrust approval within 60 days. Although that too was only a report (and based on information from sources), a month on from that report and the notion that US antitrust officials are trying to finalize conditions of the acquisition, with a view to approving the acquisition, would suggest the initially given 60 day time-frame could be on track. As for the acquisition itself, AT&T first announced it was buying Time Warner back in October of last year and for a sum in excess of $80 billion. A figure which was almost double the price AT&T paid for DIRECTV back in 2014.