The Department of Justice has contacted major pay TV operators and media companies, asking their top executives to serve as witnesses in its suit over AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc.
According to widely published reports, the inquiries have been sent to Comcast, Charter, Cox, Verizon and Dish, among other leading pay TV operators. Leading media companies including Disney and CBS Corp. have also received reach-outs.
It’s still unclear for the most part which companies will actually make the witness list. But for its part, Dish has already signaled that it will be willing to cooperate.
"We really take the position that we think about the customer and the customer first," recently appointed Dish CEO Erik Carlson told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
"What we have publicly said is we have concerns with AT&T and Time Warner," Carlson added.
Also addressing the merger issue today at CES in Las Vegas, John Martin, CEO of Time Warner subsidiary Turner Networks, said, “Our view at Turner is, ‘This can’t close fast enough.’” But he remained optimistic that the deal will close and, though frustrated with the process, he said he appreciated that proper regulatory vetting is an important part of any merger.
The U.S. Justice Department filed suit in November to block AT&T’s $85 billion merger with Time Warner Inc.
The DOJ is arguing that AT&T will use its control over Time Warner's valuable and popular networks and programming—which includes TBS, TNT, HBO and CNN, along with shows including "Game of Thrones" and NCAA March Madness—to hinder its rivals by making them pay hundreds of millions more for that programming. The agency also argues that AT&T would use its market control to slow innovation in video delivery, which would limit choices for American households and in turn cause service costs to rise.
“This merger would greatly harm American consumers. It would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer of the new, emerging innovative options that consumers are beginning to enjoy,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim in a statement. “AT&T/DirecTV’s combination with Time Warner is unlawful, and absent an adequate remedy that would fully prevent the harms this merger would cause, the only appropriate action for the Department of Justice is to seek an injunction from a federal judge blocking the entire transaction.”
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has vowed to give the DOJ a fight: “We do not intend to settle this matter out of simple expediency because the rule of law is at issue here,” he said in November. Consistence in the application of the law is critical in a free market economy and it’s equally important for preserving confidence in our government, confidence that they will fairly adjudicate the matters brought before them. When the government suddenly, and without any notice or due process, discards decades of legal precedent, businesses large and small are left with no guideposts. Every business combination or significant investment becomes subject to the whim of a regulator. As we’re seeing here, that tends to be a roll of the dice.”