Senators push AT&T, Time Warner on how merger will serve public interest

AT&T Randall Stephenson at Senate hearing
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson speaking at a Senate hearing.

A group of Senate Democrats are pushing AT&T and Time Warner for more details on how their proposed merger would serve the public interest.

In a letter (PDF), the lawmakers responded to AT&T’s apparent plan to structure the deal to avoid an FCC review and request a public interest statement regarding the companies’ plans to benefit consumers, promote competition and remedy all potential harms.

According to a recent SEC filing, AT&T is anticipating that Time Warner won’t have to transfer any of its FCC licenses following the completion of the acquisition. By AT&T signaling that no license transfer will have to take place, it indicated that the companies can bypass the FCC’s public interest review altogether.

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If this is indeed the case, the lawmakers are urging AT&T and Time Warner to still divulge information for public review.

“…By divesting the relevant licenses, AT&T and Time Wamer will no longer have the legal burden of proving that the proposal would serve the public interest, and the public is left largely in the dark about how the deal would impact the affordability and quality of their phone, internet and video services,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that the companies should submit by Feb. 17 a comprehensive and detailed statement on whether the transaction would benefit consumers.

RELATED: AT&T anticipates skipping FCC review of Time Warner acquisition

The letter—signed by Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and other senators—asked the companies to demonstrate how the merger would further the goals of the Communications Act. Those goals included deploying services, particularly to rural and underserved areas, ensuring non-discriminatory access to communications networks, improving network reliability, promoting diversity of ideas and voices in the marketplace and encouraging the free flow of information via telecommunications services.

The letter arrived nearly two months after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes spoke before a Senate committee and pitched the benefits and advantages of the deal.

RELATED: AT&T says Time Warner didn’t come up during Trump meeting

Increased pressure from lawmakers comes alongside reported opposition to the merger from newly elected President Donald Trump, who said during last year’s presidential campaign that he would block the deal because he felt it consolidated too much power with one company.

Stephenson and Trump recently met and, though many speculated the meeting was held to discuss the merger, AT&T insisted the conversation instead focused on how AT&T can continue, through investment, to help create jobs and stimulate the U.S. economy.

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