Senate Democrats Want Public Interest Statement on AT&T-Time Warner

Senate Democrats are asking AT&T and Time Warner to prove that their proposed merger is in the public interest, given that they plan to structure the deal so that it does not need FCC review.

While the Justice Department looks at deals for antitrust issues, the FCC goes beyond that to also look at the public interest benefits, or negative impacts, of media mergers.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a member of the Antitrust Subcommittee and one of the Senate's strongest media merger critics, led a baker's dozen of Democrats in a letter to the companies saying that the public deserves to know what is in the deal for them, FCC review or no.

"To achieve greater transparency for regulators, lawmakers, and American consumers, we ask that you provide us with a public interest statement detailing how you plan to ensure that the transaction benefits consumers, promotes competition, remedies all potential harms, and further serves the public interest through the broader policy goals of the Communications Act,” the senators said.

In its Securities & Exchange Commission filing AT&T and Time Warner indicated they planned to avoid FCC review, which is triggered by licenses changing hands. There are some satellite licenses for Time Warner delivery of HBO and CNN and other nets, but the companies have signaled they could structure it in a way that those don't come into play, likely by divesting them to a third party who could handle the delivery.

They say they would like the statement by Feb. 17.

Signing on to the letter in addition to Franken were Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats, Ron Wyden (Ore.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.).

"We are always happy to answer any questions about the merger and, of course, will follow all processes required by law," an AT&T spokesman said in a statement. "including the extensive Hart-Scott-Rodino review process at the Department of Justice through which we will produce millions of documents, and extensive analyses. As we testified recently before Congress, the merger will create more competition for cable TV providers, giving consumers more options and accelerating next generation wireless broadband."

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.