If the Justice Department should prevail in its case against AT&T to stop the conglomerate from acquiring Time Warner Inc., look for the government to also stop the sunsetting of deal conditions imposed on Comcast in 2011 when it acquired NBCUniversal.
So says Gene Kimmelman, known as the DOJ’s “secret weapon” on antitrust when he worked for the agency during the Obama Administration, who now serves as president and CEO of consumer group Public Knowledge.
“I don’t think anyone saw seven years ago exactly how online video would develop as a competitor to cable,” Kimmelman told the Wall Street Journal. “There are numerous reasons to think the DOJ might want adjustments to the consent decree, if not a more severe structural remedy.”
The last of Comcast’s NBCU deal conditions are set to sunset in September. Kimmelman and others are wondering how the DOJ would be able to justify stopping the vertical merger of a distributor like AT&T with a content company like Time Warner Inc., while letting Comcast run off scot-free with a very similar deal.
In fact, as WSJ noted, the DOJ case has severe implications across industries, with the agency previously opposed mainly to horizontal mergers only.
In December, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked the U.S. Attorney General’s Office Antitrust Division to investigate Comcast’s compliance with conditions laid out in 2011. Blumenthal, a veteran critic of the pay TV industry, has also asked the Attorney General to hold off on sunsetting the merger conditions, which are set to expire later next year.
“Over the past six years the Comcast-NBCU acquisition has been roundly criticized by experts who argue that it has caused anti-competitive harm despite the conditions that were imposed on it,” Blumenthal wrote in a letter to Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division.