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Justice Pushes for Expedited AT&T-Time Warner Arguments

The Justice Department is urging a D.C. federal appeals court to expedite its appeal of a D.C. district court's decision to let AT&T buy Time Warner, a deal Justice had sued to block saying it violated antitrust laws.

In a filing with the appeals court, Justice again said that if the two are allowed to combine it will give it the ability and incentive to raise costs to rivals and stifle next-generation competition. 

Justice says the district court committed multiple errors including ignoring basic economics.

Related: DOJ's AT&T Appeal Affects Battle for Fox

Justice said any delay in resolving its appeal of that decision will cause irreparable injury because the deal has closed and every day allows the companies to become more entwined. "[T]his Court and others have recognized that unwinding a merger to restore competition can be extremely difficult. "[E]very day that they are allowed to combine aspects of their businesses more deeply will make it more difficult for this Court and the district court on remand to unwind the merger and preserve competition," it said.

AT&T has pledged to keep the Turner network assets separate from the rest of the company, but only until February 2019, says Justice, after which it could start using that programming leverage if the case is not resolved. 

DOJ also warns that the decision has already "ignited" other mergers-it cites Disney/Fox/Comcast (now just Disney-Fox) for one. It said the court should clarify the law governing reviews of vertical mergers before Justice starts reviewing those.

The judge actually said his ruling was very fact-specific and suggested it was not a referendum on vertical mergers in general. 

Justice proposed the following briefing schedule, which it said AT&T-Time Warner did not oppose:

Government’s Opening Brief: August 6, 2018 

Defendants’ Answering Brief: September 20, 2018 (45 days later)

Government’s Reply Brief: October 11, 2018 (21 days later) 

Deferred Joint Appendix: October 11, 2018 

Final Briefs: October 18, 2018 (7 days later)

Justice wants the court to schedule oral argument as soon after Oct. 18 as possible.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.