AT&T's proposed merger with DirecTV does not compare with other mergers shaking up the telecommunications industry because the companies largely provide different services, AT&T's chief executive told lawmakers on Tuesday.
"This is not Comcast/Time Warner; this is not two cable companies getting together; this is not Sprint and T-Mobile,'' CEO Randall Stephenson said at a hearing on the proposed $48.5 billion merger before a House Judiciary Committee panel.
"We're putting (DirecTV's satellite) TV product with our broadband wireless product. ... There is not a content player per se in this transaction,'' he said.
A Senate Judiciary Committee panel also planned to hold a hearing on the deal, which is one of several proposed or considered mergers roiling the cable and wireless landscape. The other two are Comcast's $45.2 billion bid for Time Warner Cable and Sprint's potential bid for T-Mobile.
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Consumer advocates have raised red flags about industry consolidation, warning that content providers and consumers may face higher prices despite companies' reassurances to the contrary.
John Bergmayer of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, said the concern was not only about content providers becoming too powerful but also that content distributors may get so big that they influence the programming market.
"We're concerned that there may be too much, too rapid consolidation in the telecommunications industry,'' said Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat.
"This ongoing wave of consolidation will without question result in fewer firms and may harm consumers by limiting choices and also raising prices after all. ... I will be looking and listening to make sure that we are not moving in the wrong direction.''