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AT&T/Time Warner vs. DOJ: preview of arguably the decade’s biggest antitrust case

The AT&T Communications Inc. corporate headquarters building is seen March 6, 2006 in San Antonio, Texas.
The AT&T Communications Inc. corporate headquarters building is seen March 6, 2006 in San Antonio, Texas.
Toby Jorrin/Getty Images

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The trial starts Monday in the case pitting AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner against the U.S. Department of Justice in what many are calling the biggest antitrust showdown since Microsoft in the 1990s and the so-called “browser wars.”

The case is similar to the Microsoft case in the sense that they were both antitrust issues, but it also has wide-reaching implications for how we consume video as the media landscape continues to wrestle with whether content distributors should also be suppliers.

It all started in October of 2016 when AT&T proposed it would purchase Time Warner, Inc., which owns HBO CNN, the various Turner networks like TBS and TNT, Cartoon Network, and Warner Brothers studios, for more than $85 billion. AT&T is the world’s biggest telecom company but makes very little content. Time Warner is one of the biggest content creators in the media space, it doesn’t have a distribution platform that gets content directly to customers like AT&T has with DirecTV.

Following months of review by federal antitrust regulations, the Department of Justice announced it would sue AT&T over the proposed merger, arguing that the country’s largest provider of pay-TV would have a chilling effect on competition, drive up rates for customers, and that its mere size and influence would allow it to push other entities around. AT&T says if it wins, prices should decrease for their services, not increase.

We’ll preview the legal arguments each side will make and the potential impact a decision either way could have on the media landscape.

With guest host Libby Denkmann.


Meg James, corporate media reporter for The Los Angeles Times

Curt Hessler, lecturer in law at UCLA where he teaches antitrust and information law; he is the former chairman and CEO of 101 Communications