AT&T, Time Warner chiefs pitch their deal to lawmakers

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and his Time Warner counterpart Jeffrey Bewkes, yesterday tried to convince a Senate subcommittee that their proposed $85.4-billion merger would ultimately be good for consumers.

"I want to be clear... should this deal be approved, nothing is preventing a combined AT&T-Time-Warner from going to any of its competitors in the pay-TV market and charging double for access to Game of Thrones, Veep, etc," said senator Al Franken (Democrat, Minnesota)

Senantor Richard Blumenthal (Democrat, Connecticut) was equally sceptical, "I have very serious concerns about this transaction."

The proposed acquisition in late October, had raised concerns among lawmakers and consumer rights activists over restriction of consumer choice. Donald Trump too, had during his presidential campaign, raised a red flag saying, the deal would concentrate too much power in the hands of too few.

Size was an issue, especially with AT&T being the nation's second largest wireless carrier and also a major player in the pay-TV space as the owner of DirecTV. Time Warner counted HBO, Warner Bros and CNN among the assets in its entertainment and media portfolio.  A potential concern was that AT&T might get special treatment to push its own content, either by withholding access or raising the costs of such programming to rivals.

Meanwhile, president-elect Donald Trump had said his administration would block the proposed $85.4-billion AT&T-Time Warner combination as it would mean ''too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.''  Now, Trump's Department of Justice would decided whether the government would approve the combination, or try to block it.

Meanwhile, critics are worried the deal could hinder development of the online streaming market, which competed with traditional TV.

''Speaking bluntly, what I think, what any of my colleagues thinks, may make no difference whatsoever because Donald Trump has said he's going to block this merger, and I take him at his word,'' Blumenthal said.