A federal judge on Tuesday approved AT&T’s massive, unprecedented merger with Time Warner, dismissing the government’s claim that the $85.4 billion deal violates federal anti-trust law.
The merger, which will bring brands such as HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros. under the control of one telecom giant, is expected to set off a wave of similar deals among large corporations eager to merge with companies that are not direct competitors but operate in a related space.
The ruling deals a blow to the Justice Department and its antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, who broke with decades of precedent in challenging the merger. Delrahim demanded that the firms sell off major properties before merging and subsequently filed suit in November when executives refused.
U.S. District Court judge Richard Leon said Justice Department lawyers had failed to demonstrate that the merger would reduce consumer options and raise prices for television and Internet services, as Delrahim other critics have argued.
The merger was initially conceived of in August 2016 as a strategy to compete with tech giants such as Netflix and Amazon, which have saturated their distribution platforms with original content in recent years.
Then-candidate Trump vowed to block the deal “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” Proponents of the deal speculated that the Justice Department’s opposition stemmed from Trump’s contempt for CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.
Delrahim swore his decision to file suit was not influenced by the White House, and Leon prevented much of the speculation related to political bias from being considered at trial.