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Justice Department pushes back against AT&T–Time Warner merger with new demands

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Regulators want AT&T to sell off some of its assets

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The US Justice Department is voicing new concerns over the approval of AT&T and Time Warner’s massive $85 billion merger deal first announced last year. According to a a report today from Reuters, regulators are now asking AT&T to put some of its assets up for sale or to offer comparable “structural remedies” that would make the unprecedented media consolidation less of an antitrust lightning rod.

According to a pair of reports from The New York Times and Financial Times, the DOJ is pressuring AT&T to sell CNN parent company Turner Broadcasting. The DOJ remains the last barrier to the merger, as AT&T CFO John Stephens publicly announced earlier this year that all other approvals have been met. Now, AT&T is saying the deal may not close until 2018, past its end-of-year deadline it set when the merger was announced.

As part of the deal, AT&T would gain control of HBO, Warner Bros. Entertainment, and CNN, just to name a few of Time Warner’s properties. That would give the telecommunications giant — already the world’s largest — the same kinds of entertainment advantages enjoyed by its rival ISP giants Comcast and Verizon, nearly all of which want to be able to control both the content and the internet distribution systems that deliver it. AT&T already owns DirecTV, which it acquired in 2015 for nearly $50 billion, and a Time Warner merger would consolidate even more corporate power into a single conglomerate.

That’s made the merger the subject of necessary scrutiny, including from President Trump, who lambasted the deal on the campaign trail over his tangential and ongoing feud with CNN. Trump even threatened to kill the deal, but it turns out he hasn’t had as much sway over regulatory authorities as he once boasted. Still, the fact that the Justice Department is the last line of defense here — and that regulators are actively asking AT&T to make itself less threatening — is a promising sign given the general lack of pushback we’ve seen throughout the year. The deal may inevitably go through, but it won’t quell the significant coalition of opposition from consumer rights groups and smaller entertainment companies that fear AT&T would morph into an even more unstoppable mega corporation.