Federal judge approves AT&T merger with Time Warner

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Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said at a hearing that he has found, after a six-week trial, that the deal does not violate antitrust law and can proceed. He issued his decision in a closed-door room with reporters, and reportedly urged the government not to seek a stay. The transaction is one of the biggest in media and telecom industry history.

After the decision, Mr Petrocelli said: "We were surprised when the case was brought and as I said in closing arguments, it's a case that never should have been brought".

The judge made his remarks to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended. With no phones or computers allowed into the courtroom, and attendees required to stay until after the judge had left the courtroom, the public was left in the dark for almost 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon as they awaited the decision. Verizon has been courting CBS, prompting CBS to resist the overtures of Viacom.

Analysts say the decision will bolster firms such as Comcast - which is considering bidding for 21st Century Fox assets, including its stake in Sky, in a challenge to a deal announced between Fox and Disney a year ago. Comcast, which had earlier bid for the Fox assets but lost out to Disney, is expected to renew its pursuit now that AT&T has won. However, AT&T has argued that making such a deal would be necessary to compete against other tech companies.

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson argued the company's proposed $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner is necessary to compete against companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said the decision was regrettable.

The Justice Department, which had sued to block the purchase, has the option of appealing the decision.

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The result, if it stands, could pave the way for a wave of M&A action much like ones already in the works in the media biz like Disney-Fox-Comcast and Sinclair-Tribune. At the same time, he also gave the Department of Justice a tonque-lashing for a poorly presented case. All of this competition among network providers and content creators has been great for consumers, but it's hurting AT&T's bottom line. The average cable bundle, by comparison, costs $104 per month.

The merger's approval was a stinging defeat for the Justice Department, which could move to appeal Leon's ruling.

Beyond its wireless network and internet service, AT&T acquired DirecTV in a US$67b deal in 2015, which also had the blessings of government regulators.

"It is not sufficient for the government to put forward evidence that Turner has important content and thus bargaining leverage - that fact is true today, pre-merger".

Many consumer advocates, politicians, and even the President of the United States have vocally opposed the deal.

Presidential politics clouded the merger from nearly the moment it was announced. Before Leon's verdict, AT&T's stock price was down more than 10 percent on the year, as DirectTV was bleeding subscribers. At a campaign rally in 2016, Trump said his administration would not approve the deal, raising concerns over political interference.

For this reason, the government was hoping that Leon would at least put conditions on the merger, like requiring the telecom to sell off some of Time Warner's most coveted properties.

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