Judge Approves AT&T Mega-Merger Over Trump Opposition

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David McAtee, AT&T's general counsel, said AT&T expected to close the deal by June 20.

The merger, including debt, would be the fourth largest deal ever attempted in the global telecom, media and entertainment space, according to Thomson Reuters data.

In court the justice department argued an integrated company would use its size to raise prices and that it was problematic for one company to own a top pay-TV distributor, AT&T's DirecTV, as well as Time Warner, a company that makes content distributed by DirecTV's rivals. However, AT&T has argued that making such a deal would be necessary to compete against other tech companies. Bush appointee, handed down his decision approving the $85 billion merger with no conditions on Tuesday afternoon, following months of oral arguments and deliberations.

Shares of AT&T fell about 1.3 percent in after-hours trade following the decision, while Time Warner rose more than 5 percent.

The planned deal is seen as a turning point for a media industry that has been upended by companies like Netflix Inc and Google which produce content and sell it online directly to consumers, without requiring a pricey cable subscription. Cable network owner Discovery Inc saw shares increase 3.2 percent while mobile providers, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc, which are waiting for a government approval of their own, also saw a bump following the decision.

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United States district judge Richard Leon dismissed the antitrust case brought by the justice department last November, the culmination of a 20-month ordeal that has seen the deal attacked by Donald Trump, critics of media consolidation and consumer groups.

The nuances of this case are important, as the implications of this decision reach far beyond the individual businesses of AT&T and Time Warner to the vast media landscape as a whole. The Justice Department even sued to block it, but Judge Leon saw things a bit differently. It's unusual for the Justice Department to argue that a vertical merger of two companies that aren't direct competitors would limit competition, but the effect that the merger will have on the telecoms and entertainment industry is significant.

It was reported in May that Comcast was preparing a $60 billion all-cash bid for 21st Century Fox media assets that Disney already agreed to buy for $52 billion in stock.

"We want people engaged with their mobile devices all day watching movies and video", Stephenson said in April during the trial. It could also threaten to withhold content from Time Warner channels, such as CNN, HBO or TNT, from rival services in order to gain a competitive advantage for AT&T's TV services. In order for them to compete against these giants, Time Warner needs AT&T's distribution network of broadband and wireless customers. The combination would push technology forward and give consumers more choices, AT&T has promised.

Critics charged that Trump had come out against the deal because of Time Warner's CNN, which has been highly critical of his presidency. AT&T lawyers initially sought email correspondence between Trump's White House and the Justice Department, but Leon declared that any communications were not relevant to the trial, and AT&T relented.

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