With the curtain rising on the Justice Department’s suit to block AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, lawyers for both sides spent Monday contending over what victim should be permitted into the case.
The Justice Department asked to enter reams of internal records from AT&T and DirecTV — both before and after their July 2015 merger — in its quest to deny the megadeal.
Justice Department lawyer Eric Welsh promised “some very startling statements,” including DirecTV’s criticizing the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger in 2011 as giving the combined entity “unfair leverage,” according to a source.
Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU is considered an essential precedent in that it combined a content distributor with a content creator — just as an AT&T-Time Warner tie-up would do.
AT&T lawyer Daniel Petrocelli objected to permitting DirecTV’s criticism because it was made before AT&T acquired the satellite broadcaster. He also called it irrelevant in a media landscape that’s changing at “warp speed.”
The jousting will continue on Tuesday with opening arguments set for Wednesday. Federal Judge Richard Leon in Washington, DC, who’s overseeing the bench trial, approved the Comcast-NBCU deal.
Since then, the US has soured on “behavioral remedies” — conditions imposed on deals to assure a market’s competitiveness.
It now prefers “structural remedies” — asset sales that keep a market competitive without government oversight.