AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc. promised lawmakers who criticized their planned merger that the combined company wouldnâ€™t withhold programming from rivals to gain a market advantage.
â€œRestricting distribution of Time Warner content would not only sacrifice revenues, but also damage Time Warnerâ€™s reputation and relationships in the entertainment industry,â€ the companies told the lawmakers, according to a summary released by AT&T and Time Warner.
The companies were responding to a January 25 letter from 12 Democratic senators and Bernie Sanders, an independent senator, who said the $85.4 billion merger could raise prices, reduce access to independent programming and harm small businesses and content producers.
The combined company has â€œboth the incentive and ability to use its platform to harm competitors,â€ the lawmakers said. Signers included Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Markey and Franken said the response left them wanting more scrutiny for the deal. â€œNothing in their letter eases my very serious concerns that this deal will lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and even worse service,â€ Franken said in a Facebook post.
The Justice Department is reviewing the deal. But AT&T has said it will structure the transaction to avoid a parallel review by the Federal Communications Commission. It told the senators that Time Warner wonâ€™t need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T.
â€œAlmost all of Time Warnerâ€™s existing licenses are used only for internal communications anyway; they do not provide FCC-regulated services to the public,â€ according to the summary provided by the companies.
The letter to the senators was signed by AT&T Executive Vice President-Federal Relations Tim McKone and Time Warner Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy Steve Vest, the companies said.
The senators said structuring the deal to avoid FCC scrutiny â€œwill circumventâ€ a public review by the agency. Lawmakers donâ€™t directly vet deals, but they do have influence over agencies, for instance by controlling budgets.