Washington: AT&T Inc. could learn as soon as Tuesday whether it can finally move forward with its acquisition of Time Warner and put behind it a lengthy legal battle with US antitrust enforcers over the $85 billion deal.
The company and the US Justice Department are awaiting a decision from the US Court of Appeals in Washington about the government’s effort to reverse a lower-court decision allowing the AT&T-Time Warner merger.
Oral arguments were held in December 2018.
Under an agreement with the US Justice Department, AT&T promised to put Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting in a business unit separate from AT&T’s DirecTV business. It also agreed to a firewall between the two. That agreement, which was intended to prevent a full integration of the firms if the government prevails in its appeal, expires Thursday.
Because the appeals court issues its opinions on Tuesday and Friday mornings, it would have to rule Tuesday on the Justice Department’s appeal before AT&T can end the separation agreement and proceed with the integration.
The appeals court is considering a June decision by US district Judge Richard Leon rejecting the government’s case that AT&T should be prevented from buying Time Warner on antitrust grounds. Leon said the US failed to show that AT&T would be able to raise prices for Time Warner programming sold to competing cable and satellite-TV companies, leading to higher prices for subscribers.
The decision could have far-reaching consequences for both sides. If the court rules for the US Justice Department and sends the case back to Leon for reconsideration, it would cast a cloud over a deal AT&T says it needs to compete against rivals such as Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.
A loss for the government could affect how aggressive it can be in enforcing so-called vertical mergers between companies such as AT&T and Time Warner that operate in different parts of an industry supply chain.