The new deadline is April 22, but in a sense the U.S. Department of Justice already had extended the date when the deal’s fate would be determined when it opted to file a lawsuit earlier this month to block the deal. Estimates vary in terms of how long a trial would take, but it could begin in the coming weeks and AT&T, which announced the acquisition in October 2016, is eager for a resolution.
Makan Delrahim, head of the DOJ’s antitrust division, has said that regulators had determined that the “behavioral remedies” that would be required in order to OK the deal would require too much government oversight. Instead, regulators are urging “structural remedies,” meaning AT&T would have to restructure the deal and shed assets such as DirecTV or CNN in order to pass muster.
President Donald Trump has voiced objections to the deal on the basis that it is simply too large and would boost cable TV bills, weirdly putting him in alignment with many activist groups and Hollywood guilds, which also oppose it due to its massive scale. Trump, of course, has also vilified CNN, and the fact that Delrahim and the DOJ have suggested AT&T would need to carve out CNN or other assets in order to win approval have sparked speculation that the lawsuit is driven by presidential spite.
During a forum hosted by NBC this morning, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser said the lengthy vetting process has impaired AT&T. Like many observers, though, he said he is unpersuaded by Delrahim’s argument. “Will consumers be harmed by this? I am highly skeptical,” he said. Plus, “they’re not going to have what Google and Facebook have,” in terms of a near-monopoly in the advertising business.