Judge approves AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner in federal court

The decision could set the stage for a wave of mergers across corporate America

By Shira Tarlo

Published June 12, 2018 4:45PM (EDT)

 (AP/Mark Lennihan/Reuters/Stephanie Keith)
(AP/Mark Lennihan/Reuters/Stephanie Keith)

The trial over the Justice Department's lawsuit to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner reached its conclusion Tuesday afternoon when a federal judge delivered his long-awaited ruling in the antitrust trial.

The ruling — which allowed AT&T to merge with Time Warner without conditions — was announced in Washington, D.C. and decided by Richard J. Leon, a U.S. District Court judge appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush. Now, its huge repercussions could be felt across the media and technology industries.

AT&T was hoping for a victory that would allow its $85 billion takeover of Time Warner to proceed, with a June 21 deadline between the companies to complete the multi-billion dollar merger.

AT&T, the multi-platform communications provider, sought to acquire Time Warner in part because of its deep content library buoyed by powerhouse brands like HBO, Turner Broadcasting (CNN, a stake in Hulu, TBS ) and Warner Bros.

The deal was first announced in October 2016, and it is the latest move by a telecom giant or cable provider to acquire a large media company. Comcast, for example, owns NBCUniversal, while Verizon owns online content hubs and search engines including HuffPost and Yahoo.

The judge's decision to approve the massive merger could set the stage for a wave of mergers across corporate America.

"I think for business, in general, it's going to be seen as a green light for mergers. I think you'll see a lot of people using it as an opportunity to push mergers they may have been thinking about," Ed Black, president of the Computers and Communications Industry Association, a trade group in Washington, D.C. that represents companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google, told the Washington Post.

The decision could be seen as a major blow for Trump's Justice Department and its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, as it could rewrite how antitrust laws, takeovers and mergers are applied.

In a speech on Tuesday, Delrahim said that the decision was "in many ways potentially historic." According to his prepared remarks to the Open Markets Institute, he said that the DOJ lawsuit was designed to "prevent an aspect of AT&T's anticompetitive acquisition of Time Warner from making it a gatekeeper to competition in cable TV."

The Justice Department sued to block the blockbuster deal, arguing that it would hinder competition and increase costs. AT&T and Time Warner, however, have claimed that the merger would allow them to directly compete against Silicon Valley companies like Google, Netflix and Amazon. Comcast, for its part, previously abandoned an attempt to acquire Time Warner in 2015.

"AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN," Trump said at a campaign rally when the deal was announced. He said it was "a deal we will not approve in my administration."

It is possible the Department of Justice may still appeal.

This story is developing. It will be updated.

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