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The Trump administration is telling companies what they're up against with the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission if they embark on a merger similar to the AT&T-Time Warner deal, under new draft guidelines for so-called vertical mergers proposed Friday.

Why it matters: These new guidelines seek, for the first time since 1984, to formally lay out how regulators consider whether a vertical merger will hurt competition and should therefore be blocked.

  • The agencies have lengthy standards for reviewing horizontal mergers, in which a company buys a direct competitor.
  • The rules covering vertical mergers, where a company buys a supplier — such as a pay-TV provider buying a network — are shorter and haven't been updated in decades.

Details: Under the guidelines, a would-be vertical merger could be deemed harmful if there's evidence that it would help the buyer raise costs for competitors, shut rivals out of markets or access sensitive information that would give it a competitive edge.

Yes, but: The standards that the agencies are looking to codify with the new guidelines include some of the very factors the Justice Department used in trying to block the merger between distributor AT&T and content provider Time Warner. That case failed to convince a federal judge, and the companies closed their deal.

What they're saying: The FTC's two Democratic commissioners both said they're in favor of updating the vertical merger guidelines, but couldn't support the proposal as written.

  • Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said in a statement that her "biggest concern" involves a note in the guidelines that regulators are unlikely to challenge mergers proposed by companies that control less than 20% of the market in which they operate.
  • Fellow Democrat Rohit Chopra said the proposed rules "clearly fall short" and should have included more metrics for weighing if a merger will hurt competition.

Between the lines: The cooperation between the two agencies comes at a time of some tension over the antitrust investigations of the major tech platforms and the Justice Department's weighing in against the FTC's case against Qualcomm. 

What’s next: The agencies are taking comments on the guidelines until Feb. 11. After that, they can move toward finalizing and adopting them.

Go deeper: T-Mobile's trial to close Sprint merger heads toward closing arguments

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
52 mins ago - Politics & Policy

The global future is looking dark and stormy

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

A new 20-year-forecast for the world: increasingly fragmented and turbulent.

The big picture: A major report put out this week by the National Intelligence Council reflects a present rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. How the next two decades will unfold depends largely on whether new technologies will ultimately unite us — or continue to divide us.

10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Rep. Gaetz declares he's "not going anywhere" amid sex trafficking probe

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) doubled down Friday night, saying he's not "going anywhere," and vowing, "I have not yet begun to fight," amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations.

What he's saying: “I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” Gaetz, who denies the allegations, said during a Women for America First event at the Trump National Doral Miami resort.