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Democratic senators want AT&T to detail Time Warner deal benefits

By David Shepardson

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thirteen Democratic senators on Wednesday asked AT&T Inc <T.N> to explain how its planned $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc <TWX.N> is in the public interest, as the company hopes to avoid a review of the deal by the primary U.S. telecommunications agency.

Earlier this month, AT&T said in a securities filing it expected to bypass the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in its acquisition of the owner of HBO, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and Warner Brothers and only face U.S. Justice Department review.

AT&T does not plan to acquire a Time Warner TV station in Atlanta that has an FCC license, which would automatically trigger a review.

Democratic senators Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and nine others urged AT&T and Time Warner in a letter to submit a public interest statement to them by Feb. 17 that would required as part of an FCC review "detailing how you plan to ensure that the transaction benefits consumers, promotes competition, remedies all potential harms, and further serves the public interest."

The senators added they have concerns about how the merger could impact competition. The deal could give the combined company "both the incentive and ability to use its platform to harm competitors, and as a result, consumers. The combined company could promote its own programming above that of other content companies."

AT&T said in statement on Wednesday it was happy to answer questions about the merger and will follow all legal requirements, "including the extensive Hart-Scott-Rodino review process at the Department of Justice through which we will produce millions of documents, and extensive analyses."

AT&T added the deal "will create more competition for cable TV providers, giving consumers more options and accelerating next generation wireless broadband."

The merger faces other potential hurdles.

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump said in October he opposed the merger. But earlier this month, he told website Axios that "I have been on the record in the past of saying it's too big and we have to keep competition. So, but other than that, I haven't, you know, I haven't seen any of the facts, yet."

Time Warner shareholders will meet on Feb. 15 to decide whether to approve the deal.

AT&T, which has repeatedly clashed with the FCC over major industry regulations, said in October that one benefit of its purchase is that Time Warner is "lightly regulated compared to much of AT&T's existing operations."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)