Almost as quickly as the details of telecom giant AT&T’s plans to buy the media behemoth Time Warner emerged over the weekend—the $85 billion price tag, an executive meet-cute dinner on Martha’s Vineyard—came the backlash, and bipartisan backlash at that. Donald Trump, addressing a crowd in Gettysburg, said his administration would not approve the deal because “it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” Trump was echoed by Tim Kaine, speaking on behalf of the Clinton campaign, as well as Clinton’s former rival Bernie Sanders, who said that the deal “would mean higher prices and fewer choices for the American people.”
On Monday, in another rare instance of bipartisanship, one Democratic senator and one Republican senator jointly called for a hearing on the merger in a heavily-emojied announcement on the grounds that might run afoul of U.S. antitrust regulations.
.@SenMikeLee & I called for AT&T/TimeWarner merger hearing in our antitrust com:📞➕📺➕🎞➕📽is💰for them but bitter 💊for us? Need to shed 🔦on deal— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) October 24, 2016
At the heart of the opposition to the merger is the fear that it will allow AT&T, as Brian Fung at The Washington Post put it, to “control both the pipes of distribution and much of the shows, movies, and other content that travels through the pipes.” In other words, AT&T, as America’s second-largest wireless company and third-largest broadband provider, could potentially privilege Time Warner’s content, including CNN, HBO, and Warner Bros., therefore limiting consumers’ access to competitors’ content (or perhaps limiting non-AT&T subscribers’ access to Time Warner’s content). Such an outcome would chafe at the cherished American idea of fair competition—in a sense, impeding on the democratic spirit of the American market.