Proposed AT&T, Time Warner Merger Draws More Scrutiny From Senate Democrats

AT&T Inc.’s proposed $85 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc. prompted more skepticism from Senate Democrats on Monday, with the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee calling for the panel to hold a hearing on the issue “without delay.”

“Millions of Americans rely on AT&T for their satellite or cable television, as well as their wireless telephone service and broadband Internet access,” Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a statement. “And millions of Americans use Time Warner’s entertainment and news content. This proposed massive consolidation of distribution and content raises potentially serious questions about competition, consumer choice, and privacy across the media, cable TV, wireless and broadband industries.”

Separately, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing his “serious reservations” about the proposed deal, which he said “would give one of the nation’s largest telecommunications providers control over a wide array of content.”

“A deal of this magnitude could have a lasting effect on the quality and affordability of programming available to consumers across America,” Franken wrote, adding that he’s “skeptical of any further consolidation in the media and telecommunications industries that could lead to higher prices, fewer choices, and even worse service for Americans.”

The Justice Department is expected to be involved in deciding whether to approve the merger, but it’s not clear whether the FCC also has jurisdiction.

Leahy’s remarks and Franken’s letter come a day after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, said his panel plans to hold a hearing on the proposed merger “sometime in November.”

The Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Nov. 15.