DoJ antitrust chief readies for battle against big tech

There have been plenty of whispers in the back alleys of Silicon Valley of the antitrust boogeyman and now the nightmares are turning into reality.

Speaking at an industry conference in Israel, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim outlined his views on competitiveness in the technology industry. Those who were anticipating an antitrust battle in the US can feel suitably vindicated, as Delrahim effectively confirms he has Google and Apple firmly in the crosshairs.

“The digital economy is a fact of life, but it is not all things to all people,” said Delrahim. “There has been robust public discussion about whether the broader economy, undoubtedly transformed by digital technologies, is working well for everyone.”

Although this is not necessarily shocking news, it is a nuanced confirmation of the up-coming assault against big tech.

Last week, the US took the first tentative steps towards addressing the influence of technology on today’s society. The House Antitrust Subcommittee announced the launch of a bipartisan investigation into competition in digital markets, potentially offering a threat to solid foundation of the technology giants. Diluting the dominance of big tech is going to be a very difficult task, but it does appear the groundwork is being laid.

In this speech, Delrahim is effectively outlining the Department of Justice’s plan, as well as the justification for tackling big tech.

“Where there are credible concerns that a transaction or business practice is anticompetitive, timely and effective antitrust enforcement is imperative,” said Delrahim.

“…After all, the government’s successful antitrust case against Microsoft arguably paved the way for companies like Google, Yahoo, and Apple to enter the market with their own desktop and mobile products.”

Microsoft’s dominance of the technology world in the 90s should not be underplayed and perhaps can be very accurately likened to Google’s influence today. Although the US Government was not successful in breaking-up Microsoft as an organization, it did manage to dilute its power and broaden the spread of wealth. When a company starts to dictate play in the way Microsoft did, the US Government starts to get a bit twitchy.

This is the issue which the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple are facing today. Such is the success of the business, through the creation of best-in-class products and strategic acquisitions to stutter the progress of competitors, the fortunes of the technology industry are incredibly concentrated. This is what Delrahim and his colleagues want to address.

Specifics are often lost in such conference speeches, but an interesting point raised by Delrahim focused on “network effects”. In short, an organization has such control over the supporting ecosystem competition is suffocated before it has any genuine chance to be competitive. Perhaps this is done through acquiring nascent competitors or manipulating the ecosystem.

Although there have been some hints of strategy from Delrahim, the specifics are still evading the industry. That said, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US Government wants to dilute the power and influence of big tech.

T-Mobile/Sprint merger might be heading towards a ‘no’ – report

The merger approval process is heading towards the business-end of proceedings, and the omens are not looking particularly healthy for T-Mobile US and Sprint.

The longer the process takes to complete, the more of a feeling there is the transaction might be denied. As it stands, the FCC has seemingly lit the green light, though it does not appear the Department of Justice (DoJ) is on the same page.

According to reports from Bloomberg, the DoJ is considering additional concessions which would force T-Mobile US and Sprint to create a fourth national MNO to preserve competition. How this would be achieved is not detailed, but it is difficult to see how the duo would be happy with this outcome.

If reports turn out to be true, the concessions bar might be set too high for the parties to be comfortable. This is of course assuming the DoJ is happy with the plans laid out by T-Mobile US and Sprint to satisfy the alleged concession.

The long-standing justification for this merger is to create a more competitive alternative to AT&T and Verizon. To do this, T-Mobile US and Sprint executives have argued combining the network and spectrum assets is imperative. This is where the details of how a fourth nationwide player are needed.

A fair assumption would be the DoJ would insist T-Mobile US and Sprint would spin-off some of their assets to create this fourth alternative. Considering the vast investment which would have to be made, both monetary and time, to establish another MNO from the ground up, it is realistically the only option.

However, spinning-off network and spectrum assets to create a fourth nationwide MNO would most likely weaken the position of the newly combined business. Surely this would undermine the initial justification for the merger? If the merged business does not have access to all the current assets of the pair, would it still be in the same league as AT&T and Verizon?

Critics of the deal are already suspicious of the claims the merged business would be able to satisfy the coverage obligations of the FCC, 97% 5G coverage within three years with no price increases, and what would they say if the DoJ forces the pair to release assets?

These reports also compound theories about the different approaches from the FCC and the DoJ. It would appear the two approving agencies are offering different opinions on a merger for the first time. This can perhaps be explained by the objectives of the agencies.

For the FCC, it does appear improving mobile coverage and quality of experience is the main objective, while the DoJ is focused on preserving competition and choice for the consumer. While there might be some common ground between the two objectives, there is also room for opposing opinions.

For T-Mobile US and Sprint, the situation is not looking the healthiest. Accepting these reported concessions might be difficult if the pair are to remain true to their stated objectives, and that is of course assuming the DoJ accept the response on how they will meet the obligations.

It’s all starting to look a little messy for T-Mobile US and Sprint, and we are starting to get stronger feelings no will be the answer at the end of this prolonged saga.

DoJ doesn’t share FCC enthusiasm for T-Mobile/Sprint – report

The FCC might have a skip in its step after securing concessions from T-Mobile US and Sprint ahead of the proposed merger, but the Department of Justice is not convinced.

Following the approval from FCC Chairman Ajir Pai, and the vote of support from Commissioner Brendan Carr, Sprint share price rose almost 19%. The long-awaited merger to create a genuine challenger to AT&T and Verizon on a national scale looked to be heading in the right direction, only for the DoJ to be the fly in the ointment.

According to Bloomberg, the DoJ believes the concessions made by the pair do not go far enough. This is a move which breaks with tradition, generally the FCC and the DoJ sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to acquisitions and mergers, though it appears antitrust investigators are still concerned over the threat to competition.

This is perhaps the nuance between the two departments. The DoJ, and various Attorney Generals throughout the US, are primarily concerned with competition, while the FCC rhetoric has been more focused on securing a more efficient and broader 5G rollout.

The concessions have taken the form of three commitments. Firstly, T-Mobile suggests 97% of the population could be covered by 5G within three years. Secondly, Sprint’s prepaid brand Boost would be sold to preserve competition. And finally, there would be no price increases while the 5G network is being deployed.

Of course, there is a very real risk to competition. Taking the number of national telcos from four down to three will mean less choice in the market. Less choice means less opportunity for disruption, even if the hatred from T-Mobile US CEO John Legere towards AT&T and Verizon is effectively teemed from his ears. There are too many examples through history of abuses when it comes to competition for some to be completely comfortable.

You also have to weigh up the current cost of mobile connectivity in the US. Although much has been done to help the consumer, ARPU is still notably more than in Europe, where competition is significantly higher. According to Moneysavingpro.com, the average postpaid contract in the US is as much as $80.25 compared to $30.06 in the UK. US consumers are already feeling the sharp end of the competition stick, and few would want to risk this difference to increase further.

The question is how much pain the consumer can tolerate in pursuit of leadership in the 5G race. Carr has spoken of his primary role at the FCC being focused on creating a leadership position for the US in the 5G era and part of this will depend on getting 5G in the hands of the consumer as quickly as possible. The sooner consumers have 5G, the sooner US firms can scale new services and products before assaulting the international markets. This is a playbook taken from the very successful 4G era.

With the US taking a leadership position in the 4G world, companies like Google, Amazon, Uber, AirBnB and Lyft thrived. These are companies which would have existed without the 4G euphoria, but success was compounded because of the connectivity gains. We are likely to see the same trend in the 5G world, with new products and services being designed for 5G connectivity. The question which remains is where they will call home.

This is the equation the FCC and the DoJ have to balance. The need to protect the consumer against the drive towards future economic success on the global stage. There is not going to be a perfect answer for this one, the US is gambling on the future success of the economy after all.

Huawei facing US trade secret theft indictment and ZTE-style ban

The US Department of Justice is rumoured to be pursuing charges relating to trade secrets theft against Huawei, while four politicians have tabled a bill for a ban similar to what ZTE faced last year.

Leaving the Department of Justice for the moment, a bi-partisan collection of politicians have tabled the so-called ‘Telecommunications Denial Order Enforcement Act’, a proposed bill which would compel the White House to ban Huawei from using US components and IP within its supply chain. The ban would be the same punishment ZTE faced early last year.

“Huawei and ZTE are two sides of the same coin,” said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. “Both companies have repeatedly violated US laws, represent a significant risk to American national security interests, and need to be held accountable. Moving forward, we must combat China’s theft of advanced US technology and their brazen violation of US law.”

Aside from Van Hollen, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, as well as Representatives Mike Gallagher (Republican) and Ruben Gallego (Democrat) are also supporting the proposed bill. This should hardly come as a surprise as the ZTE ban was imposed for violating the exact same trade sanctions which Huawei has allegedly ignored.

The saga surrounding the ZTE ban was short-lived, incredibly volatile and almost fatal. After being found violating trade sanctions, US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) imposed a denial of export privileges order against the firm, denying it access to any US suppliers. President Trump stepped in to save the firm, which looked doomed as a result of the ban, before Congress blocked his efforts. Eventually a resolution was reached, though ZTE has been skating on thin ice since.

If precedent is anything to go by, Huawei should face the same punishment should it be found guilty of the same activities. Last month, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada, accused of violating the same trade sanctions with Iran using a suspect firm known as Skycom. Meng has been released on bail and awaits trial, though it appears the four politicians are already presuming guilt. Or maybe they are just being prepared.

Perhaps this is a sign the politicians do not believe President Trump is committed to precedent and appropriate action. The actions against ZTE smelt suspiciously like one of Trump’s strategic moves in the on-going trade war with China, though perhaps he did not realise he would have to do the same 12 months later, potentially antagonising the Chinese government with a move which is not in the grand plan.

The politicians might be tabling this bill to make sure Trump can’t find a reason not to ban Huawei. Following the arrest, Trump seemed to suggest in an interview with Reuters that he would be willing to make the Canadian charges go away if it would help him the US in its dispute with China.

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump stated.

Not only does this completely undermine the standing of the Canadian judicial system, but also suggests Trump is willing to bend (or break) rules to bring the Chinese government to its knees. Perhaps Congress does need to be proactive to make sure the President follows the rules, taking appropriate action instead of whatever ludicrous idea floats in the breadth between his ears.

What is worth noting is the stance of Huawei executives. Clearly, they do not agree with anything which is going on, but both Rotating Chairman Guo Ping and Rotating CEO Ken Hu put across messages stating the resilience of the business. Ping and Hu suggested a ban would not impact the Huawei supply chain in the same manner as it did ZTE.

Heading back to the Department of Justice, the Wall Street Journal has reported the agency is pursing charges against Huawei concerning theft of trade secrets.

An indictment should be heading over to the Huawei offices in the near future, focusing on allegations the firm stole robotic mobile-testing technology from T-Mobile. The technology, known as Tappy, mimics human fingers and is used to test smartphones. A civil case between T-Mobile and Huawei over the technology was filed in 2014, though after a criminal investigation the Department of Justice feels it is appropriate to step in and raise criminal charges.

This case is a separate concern from all the other chaos which has surrounded the firm in recent months, though it will be just as concerning as the punishments can be incredibly severe.

The primary federal law that prohibits trade secret theft is the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, which allows the US the U.S. Attorney General to prosecute a person, organization, or company that intentionally steals, copies, or receives trade secrets. If the case if brought against an individual, the punishment could be as much as 10 years in prison or a $500,000 fine. However, we suspect the government would want to punish the firm not an individual, as Huawei would simply claim that person did not represent the company culture, in-line with White House aggression against China.

If a conviction is made against a company the fine can be increased to $5 million. However, if the Attorney General can prove the theft was made on behalf of a foreign government, this would be considered the silver bullet for the White House, corporate fines can be doubled, imprisonment could be 15 years and proceeds derived from the theft can be seized.

In short, Huawei has found itself in another uncomfortable position in the US. It does not appear 2019 is going to be any better than 2018 on the US side of the pond for Huawei.

AT&T suggests Dish and DoJ are collaborating

With AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Dish arguing over a distribution deal, one AT&T executive has suggested Dish and the Department of Justice are collaborating to reverse the green light on the Time Warner acquisition.

The conspiracy theory is hitting new highs here. AT&T is effectively accusing Dish of actively working to create a no-deal situation in negotiations with WarnerMedia over rights to air HBO content. Although having HBO and Cinemax channels go dark on the Dish service would have a negative impact on business, it does coincidentally work well for the Justice Departments case appeal against the Time Warner merger.

WarnerMedia have been in negotiations over the right to air content, with it claiming it offered to extend the previous contract while negotiating but Dish declined. As a result, HBO content has disappeared from the Dish service.

“Dish’s proposals and actions made it clear they never intended to seriously negotiate an agreement,” said Simon Sutton, HBO President and Chief Revenue Officer, in a statement to Reuters.

With the appeal based on the grounds the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner would offer it undue control and influence in the industry, stagnant negotiations certainly add credibility to the objections from the Department of Justice. Manipulating the playing field however, as AT&T is accusing Dish of, is a serious no-no when it comes to the courts.

“This behaviour, unfortunately, is consistent with what the Department of Justice predicted would result from the merger,” said a representative of the Department of Justice. “We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will correct the errors of the District Court.”

“The Department of Justice collaborated closely with Dish in its unsuccessful lawsuit to block our merger,” WarnerMedia responded. “That collaboration continues to this day with Dish’s tactical decision to drop HBO – not the other way around. DOJ failed to prove its claims about HBO at trial and then abandoned them on appeal.”

The $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner proved to be a messy affair for AT&T. While some would have expected some resistance from the industry, the objections of President Trump seems to have encouraged the Department of Justice to chase down every lead, and make life as difficult as possible. The Department of Justice’s appeal against the approval of the deal, is effectively built on the assumption Judge Richard Leon didn’t know what he was talking about.

Publicity stunt? Monopolistic ambition? Nefarious schemes? Whatever the basis of this story, more fuel has been added onto one of the longest running sagas in the telco industry.

Justice Department eyes up social media probe over competition

Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley has raised the prospect of an investigation into whether the social media giants are impacting competition through ‘intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas’.

In a statement following the Senate Intelligence Committee grilling, O’Malley outlined plans to meet with state attorneys general to discuss the concerns over the next couple of weeks in Washington. While this does not necessarily mean a full investigation or any legal action, the social media giants are receiving plenty of unappreciated attention currently.

“The attorney general has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” said O’Malley.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has apparently taken on President Trump’s battle against the social media giants. Aside from the Senate Intelligence Committee questioning the effectiveness of social media giants in providing an unbiased and uninfluenced platform for free speech and news, Trump is going tweeting crazy as well.

Trump’s latest target is Google as the President accuses the search platform of political bias. The remarks have escalated the conservative campaign against the internet industry, accusing the technology company of burying Republican orientated news in search results while offering more prominence to the opposition. While the ‘everyone is evil except me’ rhetoric from the President is starting to become boring, we are waiting to see whether the irony of one of the social media giants creating unprecedented exposure for his vile opinions will ever hit home.

Of course, while these are sub-plots, yet to emerge as major thorns for the social media companies, the current saga is focused on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Yesterday saw Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey face the grilling, attempting to justify their actions. The questions focused on efforts to keep Russia, Iran and others from disrupting elections and causing other problems. Some Senators found it difficult to believe there isn’t a political bias on the platforms, but that is to be expected.

The current political climate is such that temper tantrums will be thrown and accusations dished out if there is any minor disagreement to propaganda. The concept of the press questioning claims and presenting their analysis to allow citizens to make up their own minds seems to have disappeared. And we thought government was run by mature adults.

While these two internet heavyweights seemingly performed admirably in defending their positions, Google’s empty chair took more than its fair share of criticism. Rather than facing the questions of the Senators, Google decided to skip the hearing after alternative representatives were rebuffed. Instead of defending itself, Senators took aim and fired. Google has largely enjoyed a good relationship with both parties in the US political shark tank, though how this snub impacts the relationship remains to be seen.

With the Senate Intelligence Committee attacking the social media giants from the front, the Oval Office using their own platforms to attack in the virtual world and the Department of Justice gathering support on the horizon, it is looking like another couple of uncomfortable months. We suspect the US political system has already decided who is to blame, but a series of investigations and hearings are needed to justify the accusation. You know, the normal way to identify guilt.

DoJ appeals AT&T/Time Warner deal on grounds of ignorance

The Department of Justice has attacked a trial judges approach and methods when reviewing AT&T’s much debated acquisition of Time Warner, in it’s against the greenlight for the deal.

AT&T closed it’s $108 billion acquisition of Time Warner two days after District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard Leon gave his seal of approval, though the Department of Justice is not done yet. An appeal has been launchedx      , arguing competition would be distorted in the pay TV market as a result as AT&T would have a bargaining advantage over rivals, with the main focus of the appeal seemingly being directed at the Judge Leon.

“The district court held otherwise, but only by erroneously ignoring fundamental principles of economics and common sense,” the appeal document states. “These errors distorted its view of the evidence and rendered its factual findings clearly erroneous, and they are the subject of this appeal.

As you can see from the statement above, the Department of Justice seems to be claiming Judge Leon was not able to consider the long-term economic impact of the acquisition of competition, but also has found issue with the court made the ‘vast majority’ of its evidentiary rulings during sealed bench conferences and declined to release the transcripts of these conferences to anyone during the trial.

“The district court substantially constrained the government’s presentation of evidence showing that the merged entity would have greater bargaining leverage,” the appeal reads.

Part of these discussions included evidence which the government would have wanted access to, AT&T’s own analysis of the potential competitive impact of the acquisition for example, but also that Judge Leon dismissed public FCC filings made by AT&T and DirecTV explaining the potential competitive harm from vertical integration, refusing to treat the documents as relevant submissions. The Department of Justice also argues it was not given enough air-time to question economic experts or evidence presented by AT&T.

The implication seems to lean on the idea of bias. Although it has not been directly said, the Department of Justice seems to be hinting Judge Leon favoured AT&T and was not able to offer an independent evaluation of the saga.

While this is a massive acquisition, vertical deals are not unusual in the technology industry, in fact, some might suggest it is the norm for growth. With big ticket acquisitions becoming more common in the industry, some might suggest the Department of Justice’s opposition to the deal might be more political than economical. President Trump’s distain for Time Warner owned brands are no secret, a public hatred which might be fuelling the theories.

Huawei gets US probe for suspected Iran naughtiness

Few will be surprised the US government is looking to weaken the already limited position of Huawei in the US, the emergence of a probe from the US Department of Justice is just another stepping stone in US/Chinese tensions.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Justice has launched an investigation to see whether Huawei violated US sanctions against Iran, which will have numerous companies throughout the US as nervous as Huawei. The whole ZTE saga started with a similar investigation and escalated to a Denial Order effecting not only the firm’s ability to sell in the US, but also source products and services from the country. Suppliers to Huawei should be watching developments here very acutely.

Sources have stated the investigation follows administrative subpoenas on sanctions-related issues from both the Commerce Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, those a criminal investigation from the Department of Justice is on another level. Consequences could be very severe here.

This of course isn’t the first time Huawei has received attention from the US government. US Congressman Mike Conaway was looking to have both Huawei and ZTE banned in the US in January, political pressure on AT&T ended any prospect of selling devices through the carrier, while numerous committees and investigations have pointed the espionage finger at the vendor. It was only a matter of time before the tale escalated and higher offices were brought into the picture.

There have been no official confirmations of the investigation just yet, but is there really any need? The US government has had its eyes set on ridding both ZTE and Huawei from its shores for some time now, so it should come as little surprise to anyone. The US has been battling China for control of the digital economy, with the globalisation trend threatening Silicon Valley’s (as well as the US on the whole) dominant position at the top of the technology world.

The government has already effectively banned any public sector contracts with the giant, though this will be another step along the line. While we should expect a response from the Chinese government, the fact it hasn’t done anything drastic to date suggests it has an eye on the bigger picture. In banning ZTE from US shores, there has been substantial damage done to US companies. While it might sound like the US is winning the trade war, it is isolating its own economy from the global scene, with friendly-fire scattering everywhere. It does seem to be incredibly short-sighted, especially when you look at the dependence of some of the US’ largest companies dependence on Chinese manufacturing capabilities, most notably Apple.

It was only going to be a matter of time before such an investigation kicked off, and it will only be a matter of time before the Chinese government reacts as well. We’ve said this before, but it is worth reiterating, there will be no winners as a result of this trade war. Everyone involved will only be in a worse position than today if it continues to escalate.

AT&T slams DoJ antitrust claim in Time Warner battle

The trial hasn’t even begun yet and the lawyers are already at each other throats as AT&T files a pre-trial briefing attacking the basis of the Department of Justice case.

There had been rumours over the last couple of weeks that the telco would use President Trump’s perceived bias against the $85 billion Time Warner acquisition as a defence against the DoJ, but after a quick ‘Control+F’ none of ‘Trump’, ‘President’ or ‘White House’ appear in the document, aside from a footnote referring to Reed Hastings’ President title at Netflix. Instead, the telco has taken the more sensible route of attacking the credibility of foundations at the base of the DoJ objections.

The filing reads:

“There is no fact-based evidence that this merger will harm competition. Nothing will be withheld from competitors; consumer prices will not go up. To the contrary, the government now concedes it would not be profitable for the new company to withhold its television networks from pay-TV distributors and that the new company’s prices to its own television customers will go down. As a result, the government’s suit to block this merger is not only baseless in fact, but it is affirmatively contrary to consumer welfare, making it difficult for the government even to allege a viable antitrust claim, much less prove one.”

The focus of this attack is of course at the central pillar of the case against the acquisition; AT&T would not play nice with the rest of the industry. The theory is that AT&T is acquiring some pretty notable titles through the deal, some of which are sold to distributors, some of whom would be considered AT&T competitors. Withholding this content would be considered poor form, though government experts have since rubbished this claim.

The idea of collaborative competition is one which has been gaining some traction in recent months, and if the telcos are going to make any money out of buying organizations like Time Warner they are going to have to do business with competitors. This point was raised by the government economic expert, and emphasised by the AT&T lawyers. The argument no longer stands firm as the government case has been undermined by one of its own.

“Now, what remains of the government’s case, ‘like a Persian cat with its fur shaved, is alarmingly pale and thin’,” the filing reads slightly obnoxiously.

What is slightly more believable is that instead of withholding content from competitors it would use the position to hold competitors to ransom, demanding more than what would be considered fair price. Of course, AT&T has pointed to the fact that Time Warner would not be able to tolerate such business practises and the acquisition is more about cost-synergies. We find it tough to believe AT&T would not use any acquired asset to its advantage, but only time will tell as to whether this is a good enough reason to block the deal.

Perhaps the most interesting claim from AT&T however is that should the government block the deal it would be worse for the consumer; the Department of Justice is the one which is encouraging an anticompetitive environment.

If the argument is that streamlining the industry is would decrease the choice for the consumer, and therefore decrease competition, this transaction would of course be bad. However, AT&T argues that by streamlining the industry and creating a new entertainment beast, competitors would be forced to come up with new initiatives (perhaps lower pricing or additional bundles), therefore it would be in the consumers interest. Just when we were thinking AT&T were doing this to make more money, it turns out they are just trying to make things better for the consumer, who knew.

Such posturing and claims are hardly unusual in the build up to a trial, but whether it has any impact remains to be seen. You would hope the Department of Justice can come up with a better argument than it has at the moment, as it seem to be in a very strong position as it stands.

AT&T/Time Warner vs. Department of Justice; bout set for March 19

Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia has set a date for the antitrust trial to finally settle AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner and the Department of Justice’s wobbly.

What started as a relatively simple acquisition process for AT&T has quickly turned into a nightmare as the DoJ sued both the telco and Time Warner in an attempt to block an acquisition it views as anticompetitive. There is a glimmer of hope the saga might be resolved by the April deadline set by the two companies to complete the acquisition, but Judge Leon has warned any optimists should not hold their breath.

AT&T had been pushing for an earlier trial date due to the looming deadline on April 22. Should the acquisition not have completed by this time, the telco would have to fork out an extra $500 million to Time Warner investors. That said, it is not unusual for companies to agree deadline extensions, and this is certainly a situation which would warrant it.

Earlier this year, everything was rosy. AT&T was securing approvals all over the world for the deal, and it had found a couple of routes around US watchdogs to ease the regulatory process. Prior to the summer, few of the AT&T execs would have been worried about the April 22 deadline, but how things have changed.

President Trump has very vocal about his opposition to the deal, though a couple of commentators have pinned this down to his hatred of CNN (owned by Time Warner), and the Department of Justice has sued both parties. These lawsuits are seemingly built on the idea that AT&T would charge its rivals extortionate amounts of cash to access popular content, such as Game of Thrones. What is unclear is how much the DoJ has been influenced by the opinion of the Commander in Chief.

One comfort for AT&T is Judge Leon himself. The judge is known for handling high profile cases, and also a no-nonsense attitude towards basically anyone and everything. Politically he also appears to be pretty neutral.

What we find quite amusing is the government’s self-righteous stance on consumer protection when the Trump-led administration seems to be doing everything its power to destroy consumer protection when it comes to net neutrality and privacy. The current administration has continued to grant more powers and less accountability to intelligence agencies, while simultaneously scaling back all net neutrality regulation.

In terms of the net neutrality story, a lighter touch to regulation was probably a sensible decision to make, telcos have to be allowed to make money after all, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seems to have seen the line and sprinted as far past it as possible. Removing all net neutrality regulations is probably going too far, but that is the partisan nature of American politics. It’s all a game where the goal is to beat the politicians on the other side of the isle rather than help the American people.