(Adds new quotes from Stephenson, Time Warner CEO, more comment
WASHINGTON Dec 7 AT&T Inc's planned $85.4
billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc will increase
innovation and bring "better-priced options" to consumers upset
by high cable bills, AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson
told lawmakers on Wednesday.
"We want consumers to pay for their content once and watch
it any where any time," he said at a hearing of the Judiciary
Committee's antitrust panel.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the panel,
expressed concern that the deal would create incentives for AT&T
to refuse to license Time Warner's movies and television shows
to competitors. She also said AT&T could favor its own shows
over independent content.
Time Warner owns HBO, CNN, Cartoon Network and the Warner
Bros film studio.
Senator Al Franken, also a Democrat, expressed the same
concern and pressed Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes on whether
the new, combined company would raise rates to others who would
broadcast its content. "It would not have the incentive nor
would it have the ability," Bewkes responded.
AT&T's Stephenson agreed: "It would make no sense ... to do
Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who chairs the antitrust
panel, said the review by the U.S. Justice Department would be
"Consumer welfare is maximized by protecting competition,
not necessarily by protecting competitors," Lee said.
The Justice Department will determine whether the deal is
legal under antitrust law. If the agency decides to stop a
proposed transaction, it must convince a judge to agree.
Stephen has said that the Federal Communications Commission
would also review the deal if AT&T decides to assume any of Time
Franken said he wanted to see the FCC review the merger
because of their tougher standard.
Senator Richard Blumenthal said he had "serious concerns
about this transaction. I have yet to be convinced that the
benefits outweigh the risks."
But he was also concerned that President-elect Donald Trump,
whose administration will decide whether to approve the merger,
had said during the campaign that it should be blocked.
"What troubles me is that the president-elect has said that
his Justice Department will enforce a different standard of law
depending" on whether he is angered by news coverage, said
Blumenthal, calling the notion "absolutely abhorrent".
Stephenson said he had not been in touch with Trump's
transition team on the issue and that he expected the Justice
Department would review the merger fairly.
Billionaire investor Mark Cuban told the Senate panel that
the merger would create another competitor against large
companies like Apple Inc, Google, Microsoft
Corp, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc.
"Delivering content to consumers in this app-driven world
is not easy," he said in written testimony. "Alone, it will be
very difficult, if not impossible for either AT&T or Time Warner
And more change would be coming, he said: "There's going to
be people cutting the broadband cord."
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa
Von Ahn and Alan Crosby)