AT&T CEO says he won't sell CNN as antitrust tension rises

AT&T may need to jettison CNN to close Time Warner deal

U.S. antitrust regulators and AT&T sparred on Wednesday over whether the wireless carrier would be required to sell Time Warner's CNN cable network as a condition of approval of its deal to buy the media company.

The Justice Department is requesting that AT&T/Time Warner sell off Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN, before it would clear the merger, the New York Times reported.

The sale of CNN is one of several demands made by the Justice Department in order to sell off the deal, according to several reports.

As the controversy of the sell-off started to heat up, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson defended his company against the DOJ allegations in a statement Wednesday, stating they were not behind the controversial idea.

Still, the deal needs the Justice Department's approval. The other option, according to the NYT, is for AT&T to dump DirecTV. Bloomberg reported that AT&T is preparing to fight the concessions in court.

Until today, AT&T expressed confidence that it would wrap up the acquisition by the end of this year.

Trump has repeatedly tangled with CNN, calling the network's coverage "fake news".

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The Justice Department said it's "committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts", according to a statement. In July, advocates said in a letter to DOJ that AT&T could potentially discriminate against rivals while favoring its own over-the-top video services, by using strategies like excluding its video from consumers' data caps, or prioritizing streams of its video.

"It's all about CNN", one unnamed source with "direct knowledge" of the negotiations told the Financial Times.

On Wall Street, Time Warner fell 6.5 percent to close at $88.50, while AT&T shares jumped 1.1 percent to close at $33.44. This reporting prompted Democratic Senators to warn against political intervention.

The Justice Department's demand is likely to complicate its continuing antitrust conversations with AT&T, which said on Wednesday it was now uncertain when the deal, announced in October 2016, would be completed.

The Justice Department's new antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, joined in September after being delayed by the Senate.

From the campaign trail, Trump criticized the deal, saying that he would reject it because it concentrated media power.

The department official said the idea was proposed by the telecommunications giant during a meeting with DOJ officials Monday, as AT&T attempts to merge with Time Warner at a cost of $84.5 billion. Two people briefed on the talks told Reuters the government has sought as long as 10 years for such conditions while AT&T has pressed for a shorter period.

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