No online coverage as AT&T goes to court to fight for $85bn takeover

19 March 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


The US government’s trial against AT&T and Time Warner to attempt to stop their $85 billion merger is due to start in New York today.

But the first two days will be taken up by the judge, Richard Leon, hearing objections to proposed evidence and he will hear no arguments until Wednesday.

The full trial is now expected to last up to eight weeks, running through to late May, he said at a pre-trial hearing last week. At that heading Leon banned all electronic coverage of the trial, and threatened anyone who tries to use electronics with contempt of court.

The lawsuit was brought by the Department of Justice (DoJ), which believes that, by acquiring content producer Time Warner, AT&T will have a competitive advantage over other delivery systems. At the same time, Time Warner will have preferential access compared with other content providers, the DoJ believes.

AT&T failed in an attempt in February to bring President Donald Trump into the argument, because of his public opposition to CNN’s news coverage: CNN is one of the channels owned by Time Warner. A DoJ lawyer accepted at the February hearing that “the president is unhappy with CNN” but added: “AT&T wants to turn that into a get-out-of-jail-free card for their illegal merger.”

The trial was at first expected to last 10 days, and then four weeks, and it has already delayed the completion date of the proposed merger – originally expected in 2017. If AT&T wins and the merger goes ahead, that is unlikely to happen until almost two years after the company made the bid for Time Warner.