AT&T, Justice Department Talk Conditions for Time Warner Deal Approval (Report)

Randall Stephenson Jeffrey Bewkes - H - 2016

The talks signal that the regulatory review of the $85.4 billion mega-deal is nearing its end.

Antitrust officials at the Department of Justice have begun holding early-stage talks with AT&T and Time Warner about possible conditions that could seal regulatory approval of the telecom giant's $85.4 billion deal for the entertainment conglomerate, Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

Time Warner and AT&T representatives didn't comment on the report, and the Department of Justice couldn't immediately be reached.  

Talks about possible conditions would signal that the regulatory review of the mega-deal is nearing its end.

The Justice Department is the only regulatory hurdle for the tie-up after the FCC previously confirmed that it doesn't have to review the deal.

AT&T and Time Warner have long argued that vertical combinations, meanings marriages of companies that aren't direct competitors, rarely get blocked. But analysts have said that behavioral conditions, or promises by AT&T to act in certain ways and not act in others, were likely for the deal. Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal also came with conditions, but critics have said it can be difficult to monitor if such conditions are complied with.

AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson had said last year that he was open to conditions to address concerns regulators may raise.

Critics have said the Time Warner acquisition could lead AT&T to give favorable treatment to Time Warner content, such as HBO over other premium networks, charge more for its services or provide slower video streaming speeds to subscribers of Netflix and Amazon. U.S. President Donald Trump during last year's election campaign also spoke out against the combination and has publicly feuded with Time Warner news channel CNN. Traditionally though, U.S. presidents have stayed out of the way of deal reviews.  

Bloomberg said that antitrust lawyers were focusing on such promises from AT&T as a commitment to not give unfair advantages to its own networks or programming. It said that some content companies had raised concerns with regulators.

The report comes at a time when the Justice Department still doesn't have a new antitrust boss. President Trump's candidate, Makan Delrahim, is still in the process of getting Senate confirmation.