Consumer groups have written to the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, asking him to block the plan by AT&T to acquire Time Warned on fears that the result will be higher prices and slow innovation with regards to showing online videos. The consumer groups include Public Knowledge, Consumers Union, Common Cause and Consumer Federation of America.
Besides the consumer groups some lawmakers have also voiced their opposition to the deal which would give AT&T, DirecTV’s owner, the power to withhold from other outlets content that Time Warner owns. This would consequently hurt efforts to stream more and more movies and television shows on the internet. In their argument the consumer groups said that after being acquired, Time Warner, which owns TNT and HBO, would now be sufficiently incentivized to restrict the sales of their programming to online and cable channels.
Consequently rivals of DirecTV and AT&T’s streaming competitors would be hurt by the move. The consumer groups also raised fears that the acquisition would lead to a situation where AT&T would keep away from streaming shows and movies made by independent producers.
“If you conclude, as appears to us from the available information, that conditions and piecemeal divestitures will not be sufficient, then we hope you will challenge the merger in its entirety,” wrote the consumer groups in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General.
Prior to the consumer groups coming out in opposition to the acquisition deal, controversy had been raised after reports suggested that advisers to U.S. President Donald Trump had considered using the Department of Justice antitrust review as political leverage. This came at a time when the president had severely criticized CNN over the way it covered him and his administration. CNN is owned by Time Warner.
In 2016 during the presidential campaign, Trump had spoken against the deal saying it would be putting too much power in one organization. But after getting elected and taking office Trump has not publicly talked about the acquisition.
Should the plan by AT&T to acquire Time Warner get the nod, major organizational changes are already being planned. According to Bloomberg, the role of Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive officer, will be reorganized. Stephenson who has been the CEO of the telecommunications giant for the last decade will step out of the role to take up the position of executive chairman of the combined entity where he will oversee the CEOs running the media and telecommunications businesses.