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Judge approves AT&T's $85bn Time Warner takeover in defeat for US government and despite Donald Trump criticism

Jeremy B White
The AT&T logo can be seen in New York, New York: REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photos

A judge has approved AT&T’s $85bn (£63.5 bn) purchase of Time Warner, rejecting the federal government’s argument that the deal would disadvantage customers and breaking with Donald Trump.

The ruling clears the way for AT&T to control both the means of distribution, via its ownership of satellite television network DirectTV, and a content-production empire that includes HBO, CNN and film studio Warner Bros.

“We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile and innovative”, AT&T said in a statement.

When the Justice Department filed an antitrust last year to block the deal, officials warned that allowing the merger to go forward would create a mammoth entertainment conglomerate that could raise prices and stifle competitors.

“The proposed merger would result in fewer innovative offerings and higher bills for American families”, the lawsuit alleges, including “by substantially lessening competition among traditional video distributors and slowing emerging online competition”

Officials with AT&T rejected those arguments and called the Justice Department lawsuit an overreach, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the lawsuit “stretches the very reach of antitrust law behind the breaking point” and arguing the government’s contention that AT&T would gain too much market power “defies logic”

In response to the ruling, Justice Department antitrust attorney Makan Delharim said in a statement that “the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative” as a result. He said the Justice Department was weighing its next steps.

Among the deal’s most prominent detractors was Mr Trump, who lambasted the proposed deal on the campaign trail and linked it to his antipathy of CNN’s coverage.

“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”, Mr Trump said during an October 2016 speech.

Once in office Mr Trump continued to warn against the merger, saying last year that it would be “not good for the country” and that “your pricing is going to go up” if it was were to be approved.