The ongoing legal scuffle between the U.S. government and AT&T is expected to run much longer than anticipated due to several major contentions and the complexity of the case. In fact, the case could actually run on for too long for the deal to be finalized. The deal needs to be finalized by June 21 in order to meet stipulations of the contract. However, the presiding justice, Judge Richard Leon, has indicated that he may not be able to put together a ruling in time if the case hasn't concluded before May. That's not without good reason, though, as this case could set legal precedence in future merger deliberations and the depth of the court documents relating to the decision will need to reflect that.
For those who may not recall, this legal battle is the result of concerns about whether or not AT&T's merger with Time Warner will negatively impact the media market in the U.S. The merger itself, if completed, may represent the largest corporate consolidation of power in U.S. history. In response, the government has brought suit against the company and the courts have been hearing arguments from industry insiders and experts for well over three weeks. Those have been multi-faceted but primarily come back to whether or not the deal is anti-competitive. Ironically, that's a sentiment AT&T own executives seem to have shared about a previous smaller merger between Comcast and NBCUniversal. In this case, the mobile provider and owner of DIRECTV would gain control over HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT and Warner Bros. The general consensus among opponents seems to be that allowing the two to merge would give AT&T far too much pull in the industry. That's because it would basically grant the company control of content and channels traditionally shared among various providers that are direct competitors to DIRECTV. Beyond even that, it is thought that the merger would raise prices because of subsequent licensing fees or that it may be disruptive to smaller start-up services such as YouTube TV.
For its part, the mobile carrier has been sending out letters to its competitors starting last year, offering to allow a third-party to step in if its practices are deemed anti-competitive. That arbitrator would be tasked with evaluating the valuation of proposals based on the fair market value of channels being discussed. What's more, it has openly promised not to make the channels it would own after the merger exclusive to its own platforms. However, while that kind of deal is likely to curry favor with the judge, opponents are concerned that wouldn't necessarily be fair depending on the arbitrator selected for the deals.