The United States Department of Justice could sue AT&T over its proposed acquisition of Time Warner by Thanksgiving if the wireless carrier doesn't choose to provide the federal agency with significant concessions in the form of divestitures by November 23rd, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing sources with knowledge of the dispute. Washington was previously said to be insisting on a sale of either DIRECT purchased by the company in 2015 or Turner Broadcasting System, Time Warner's media unit which owns popular channels like CNN and TNT. Federal regulators are reportedly concerned that AT&T may eventually start blocking competitors from accessing its content or providing unfair incentives to consumers to only use such channels through its own services at a direct expense of competing solutions, with AT&T denying it has any such intentions on numerous occasions.
While the DOJ still appears to be pushing for divestitures on AT&T's part, the federal agency is said to have provided the telecom giant with some theoretical alternatives. One such option would be forming a joint venture with Turner after selling it to another entity so as to still tie its content to AT&T's infrastructure without outright owning the division and preventing it from doing similar deals with other wireless carriers, sources said. The second largest mobile service provider in the country is reportedly not seriously considering any alternatives involving the sale of either Turner of DIRECTV, making litigation more likely.
President Trump criticized the deal during his election campaign last year and vowed to block it but hasn't opposed it since taking office, though he often criticized CNN and accused it of serving "fake news" to the American public. The DOJ recently denied allegations that the White House is participating in the antitrust review of the deal in any capacity but hasn't commented on reports that it's intensively preparing for a legal battle with AT&T. Industry watchers and insiders remain divided on the most likely outcome of a potential litigation between the two; while vertical mergers historically endured competition reviews in the country, the proposed deal is largely unprecedented in scope and opposed by a wide variety of entities, from consumer protection organizations and other media companies to various advocacy groups.