AT&T, Time Warner defend deal

AT&T, Time Warner defend deal
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AT&T on Friday defended its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, writing in a letter to Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix Richard Painter puts out 'dumpster fire' in first campaign ad Bill Clinton says 'norms have changed' in society for what 'you can do to somebody against their will' MORE (D-Minn.) and three other senators that “this merger is about giving consumers what they want."

The letter, not public but obtained by The Hill, is written by AT&T Executive Vice President for Federal Relations Tim McKone and Time Warner Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy Steve Vest. They say the merger would allow the combined company to offer cheaper and more robust services to their consumers.

“The merger will allow us to offer customers more attractive bundles of broadband and video services, prodding cable companies and other competitors to respond by improving their own services,” it states. “And the merger will further incentivize AT&T and other wireless carriers to deploy lightning-fast 5G wireless technology faster and deeper in their networks.”

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The merger has come under criticism from President Trump and liberal Democratic senators.

Franken and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFederal court rules consumer bureau structure unconstitutional Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBernie Sanders: Trump thinks like an authoritarian Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Trump's America fights back MORE (I-Vt.), in a January letter to AT&T's Randall Stephenson and Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes argued the deal should be subject to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) review that would require the FCC to determine whether the deal would serve the public interest.

In their letter replying to those concerns, the company executives defended the current process in which the Department of Justice is solely responsible for assessing the deal.

“The Department of Justice will thoroughly scrutinize this transaction after receiving input from a vast range of market participants, government agencies, and public interest groups,” they wrote.

“Congress entrusted the Department with broad merger-review authority to protect the public's interest in competitive markets.”

Franken responded to the letter in a Facebook post Friday afternoon, saying that it did not reassure him.

"While I'm glad they responded to me, their letter does little to address my concerns and essentially asks American consumers to trust that the combined company won’t engage in anticompetitive behavior, raise prices, violate the principles of net neutrality, or decrease access to diverse voices," Franken wrote
 
"But we’ve seen some of these behaviors before—both as a result of past mega-mergers and straight from AT&T itself. So if I’m being honest, nothing in their letter eases my very serious concerns that this deal will lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and even worse service for you," he added.
 
Franken and other Democrats had voiced skepticism at a December hearing that the merger would actually benefit the public.

Trump has also publicly spoken out against the deal.

On the campaign trail, he blasted it as too much power in the hands of too few.

But in a January interview with Axios, he softened his stance slightly, saying that he hasn’t “seen any of the facts” of the merger, while also noting that he had “been on the record in the past of saying it's too big and we have to keep competition.”

Industry experts expect the vertical merger to be approved, but have noted that there is still uncertainty because of Trump's expressed positions.

Updated: 5:20 p.m.