AT&T-Time Warner merger: Rigged by cozy regulatory relationships?

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AT&T and Time Warner. Will it ever be one company?

Precedent says yes, at least depending on who wins November 8th.

{mosads}If Hillary Clinton wins, and most national and key battleground state polls right now seem to indicate a good chance of that happening, her campaign spokesman Brian Fallon raised skepticism about the deal.

“There are a number of questions and concerns that rise in that vein about this announced deal but there is still a lot of information that needs to come out before any conclusion should be reached,” Fallon told reporters on Sunday. “Certainly she thinks that regulators should scrutinize it closely.”

If Donald Trump wins, the deal would have a much tougher time gaining approval.

“As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump remarked in a speech on Saturday.

Trump also stated his administration would look into breaking up a 2011 deal approved under President Obama of Comcast’s acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUniversal.

We’ve heard much of rigged systems during this campaign. A rigged system against Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for example, where Democratic National Party leaders were shown on multiple occasions to be working against him in capturing the nomination.

Per various Wikileaks dumps, the DNC efforts to undermine Sanders were so apparent, its chairwoman in Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign while her replacement, former CNN contributor Donna Brazile, is under fire for feeding at least one debate question to the Clinton camp before a Town Hall event co-moderated by the network.

We’ve also heard Trump rail against a rigged government working against the best interests of the people. Pew Research’s latest poll (2015) on American trust in government has the number at 20 percent. Imagine that: Just 1 in 5 citizens here have faith in their own government. And it’s a big reason why an outsider like Trump — flaws and all — easily captured the Republican nomination.

Overshadowed in the extensive coverage of the AT&T-Time Warner deal is a very interesting — even disturbing — nugget around the other deal that is providing precedent for such a huge media consolidation: The aforementioned Comcast acquisition of NBCUniversal. And not so much the deal itself, but who ultimately approved that deal and what happened soon afterward:

To review, Comcast announced the NBC Universal deal in December 2009 and it was eventually approved by FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker in January 2011.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story: In May, just four months later, it was announced that Baker would be leaving the FCC to join (drumroll) Comcast as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.

That’s not a joke.

“Commissioner Baker is one of the nation’s leading authorities on communications policy and we’re thrilled she’s agreed to head the government relations operations for NBCUniversal,” said Kyle McSlarrow, President of Comcast/NBCUniversal for Washington, DC at the time. “Meredith’s executive branch and business experience along with her exceptional relationships in Washington bring Comcast and NBCUniversal the perfect combination of skills.”

Prior to becoming a DC president of Comcast, McSlarrow was president & CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing the U.S. cable industry. To connect the dots, McSlarrow lobbied Baker’s FCC office for six years.

“I don’t like this revolving door,” Senator Al Franken (D-MN) said in an 2014 interview with CNN. “I don’t like this revolving door between regulators and Comcast. I thought that was kind of tacky that one of the FCC commissioners, I think just four months after they approved the Comcast/NBC deal, went over to work a high-paying job at Comcast. I just don’t like that.”

Overall, Comcast has always displayed an aggressive lobbying posture in Washington. The Philadelphia-based company spent at least $12 million on lobbying every year for the past eight years, including one year (2011) when it spent almost $20 million.

In 2013, Comcast spent more than $18.8 million, which ranks it as the sixth-highest spender on federal lobbying.

According to, five of 12 people who are currently registered lobbyists for Comcast were also once with the FCC.

“Rigged” is a word we’ve heard much of in this election season, particularly as it pertains to media.

So when following the AT&T-Time Warner deal over the next several months or even years, remember just how Comcast and NBCUniversal were allowed to get together in the first place.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill

Tags Al Franken AT&T Bernie Sanders Comcast Donald Trump Federal Communications Commission Hillary Clinton NBCUniversal Regulation Time Warner United States

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