Tea Party Joins With Open Internet Advocates To Oppose AT&T-Time Warner Merger

The digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge and right-wing Tea Party Patriots may not be the most likely of allies, but they're joining forces on one issue: Both are concerned about the impact of AT&T's proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner.

"AT&T and Time Warner are already massive media conglomerates in their own rights," the groups write in a letter to the Justice Department. "We are deeply concerned that allowing these firms to join forces -- without significant conditions that fully address all competitive concerns -- would intolerably limit consumers’ control over what they watch and where they get their information."

The letter, which was also signed by Consumer Federation of America, Writers Guild of America-West, Americans for Limited Government, American Family Association and Frontiers of Freedom -- notes that AT&T's recent acquisition of DirecTV left the company as the third-largest broadband provider.

Public Knowledge, the Tea Party Patriots and other organizations flag several potential problems with the merger, including that AT&T could exempt Time Warner content from wireless customers' data caps. That practice, known as zero-rating, would give people an incentive to stream Time Warner material while eschewing Netflix, Amazon Prime and other competitors.

Already, AT&T zero-rates video streamed through the DirecTV app. Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai endorsed the company's strategy earlier this year. But last year, the Democratic-led FCC said that AT&T's zero-rating scheme violated net neutrality principles because it favored AT&T's own video offerings while unreasonably discriminating against competitors.

Some lawmakers -- including Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Al Franken (D-Minnesota) -- have also raised concerns about the prposed merger. Franken warned in a June letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the deal could harm competition, particularly if AT&T decides to zero-rate Time Warner's programs.

The Justice Department is currently reviewing the planned merger, but many observers expect the deal to meet with approval. AT&T originally expected the deal to close on October 22, but recently said it was extending the deadline "for a short period of time to facilitate obtaining final regulatory approval."

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