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June 13th, 2018 3:59 pm
Let the AT&T/Time Warner Ruling Be a Lesson Against Needless Federal Market Interference
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

Hopefully this will serve as a deterrent lesson to the U.S. Department of Justice, and the federal government more generally.

Yesterday, Federal Judge Richard Leon delivered his decision rejecting the Justice Department’s misguided lawsuit to prevent AT&T and Time Warner from merging.  The government had no business even bringing the suit, as the merger poses no threat of consumer harm.  To the contrary, as noted in today’s Wall Street Journal by Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang, it promises more choices and greater market competition for American consumers.  Because the merger was “vertical” in nature, rather than a “horizontal” merger of direct market competitors, federal bureaucrats would only inflict harm by delaying or denying its fruition:

[T]he unique characteristics of digital markets have allowed a small number of internet giants – among them Amazon, Google, Netflix and Facebook – to dominate their industries and forestall entry by competitors.  These companies have put serious money into customer connections, data analytics and back-end systems, and these investments scale very well.  Netflix has penetrated more than half of U.S households.  Google and Facebook control almost three-quarters of online advertising.  Amazon does nearly half of all online retail sales.  These are astonishing numbers.

Now that these tech giants have established their downstream power in the distribution business, they are beginning to amass upstream power by getting into the content-creation business…  Given the dominance of Silicon Valley’s internet giants, it makes no sense to prevent AT&T and Time Warner from merging.  These companies aren’t trying to join forces because they want to take control of a dying industry;  they want to be allowed to compete in a new one.”

The American economy has accelerated since President Trump’s election as a consequence of his deregulatory and tax-cutting agenda, and that same logic should apply to the realm of market mergers between mutually bargaining parties.

As one example, Comcast recently announced a bid for certain assets of 21st Century Fox.  In the same way as described above regarding the AT&T/Time Warner merger, Comcast’s acquisition would greatly benefit consumers.  The film and television businesses have never been more competitive, dynamic or creatively rich, and consumers possess more entertainment choices than ever before.  Free markets work, and federal bureaucrats have zero business interfering in this matter.

As Judge Leon noted in his decision, federal government decisions to interfere come at great cost:

The government has had this merger on hold now since October of 2016 when it launched its investigation.  In that 18-plus month period, the companies have twice extended the break-up date to accommodate the government’s litigation of this case.  During that same period, the video programming and distribution industry has continued to evolve at a breakneck pace.  The cost to the defendants and the government to investigate, litigate and try this case has undoubtedly been staggering – easily in the tens of millions of dollars.”

That same logic applies to Comcast’s proposed acquisition.  Let’s not be forced to repeat yesterday’s harsh lesson to the Justice Department, after needless waste of time and taxpayer resources in meritless litigation that only serves to harm American consumers and competitive marketplaces.

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