AT&T and Time Warner still trying to sidestep FCC scrutiny of merger

Donald Trump

In Securities and Exchange Commission filings Thursday, AT&T and Time Warner said "while subject to change, it is now anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction". The board has unanimously recommended that shareholders vote yes.

The companies told the SEC that they expect the deal to close by the end of 2017. AT&T remains hopeful as the US Justice Department has never denied mergers on antitrust grounds which combine businesses from different industries. AT&T declined to comment, and Time Warner didn't respond.

Time Warner shares dropped as much as 3.8 percent Thursday after Bloomberg's report on Trump's thinking about the transaction.

But not everyone thinks Trump's opposition is absolute, or a deal-killer.

An FCC ruling, on the other hand, would be more immutable.

The disclosure could be important: If the Trump administration wants to block the deal, it would have its best shot at the FCC which determines whether transactions serve the public interest. "Time Warner can contract with third parties instead of owning the licenses, the person said".

Trump's opinion is unlikely to lead to the merger being blocked unless the president chooses to get heavily involved in the approval process, said Barry Diller, a media veteran who's now chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp. He has also said that he's interested in breaking up the completed Comcast and NBCUniversal merger.

Time Warner shareholders have to meet to approve the deal on February 15.

During a congressional hearing last month, the chief executives of AT&T and Time Warner defended their transaction, arguing that it would raise a challenge to cable companies by making it easier to create new online TV packages and help them compete with tech giants in online advertising, among other benefits.

"After talking with the president-elect's team, AT&T executives are confident that their deal has a good chance of passing regulatory scrutiny, people informed about the conversation said", the FT wrote.

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