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Judge rules AT&T can complete $85B acquisition of Time Warner

AT&T on Tuesday received the green light to move forward with an $85 billion deal to buy media giant Time Warner, bringing an end to a contentious antitrust lawsuit leveled by the U.S. Justice Department last year.

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In a ruling handed down by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, AT&T is allowed to acquire Time Warner and take control of its substantial cache assets with no conditions applied to the sale, reports CNBC.

The deal will give the telecom full control over Time Warner's cable channels, which include CNN, TBS and HBO, and film studio Warner Bros. AT&T intends to complete the merger by June 20, one day prior to the deal's expiry.

In late 2017, the DOJ sued to block AT&T's merger bid over concerns that the combined entity would pose a "major" threat to competitors. Specifically, the government argued three main points relating to leverage over industry rivals, potential harm to streaming services and possible access restrictions imposed on certain cable channels.

Leon found for AT&T on all claims, saying the DOJ failed to meet the burden of proof that the acquisition would result in fewer choices for consumers and higher prices for content providers. The jurist also warned against an appeal, an option for the Justice Department after the six-week trial.

"I hope the government has the wisdom and courage" not to seek a stay, Leon said, according to CNN.

AT&T, which owns satellite TV service DirecTV, initially announced intent to buy Time Warner in 2016. An unconventional merger, AT&T said it seeks not only to diversify revenues, but also bolster its streaming operation by bundling entertainment offerings with mobile services. The company currently provides similar incentives with DirecTV.

Leon's decision is expected to spur a wave of similar merger attempts likely to raise the DOJ's hackles. Comcast, for example, is looking to disrupt Disney's announced deal with 21st Century Fox with a bid of its own.

Prior to the merger announcement last year, Apple was rumored to have held preliminary talks with Time Warner over a potential tie-up, but those discussions failed to bear fruit.