Dallas-based AT&T Inc. won its 14-month battle to gobble up DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite TV company, on Friday, when the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve the $67 billion takeover.

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. won its 14-month battle to gobble up DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite TV company, on Friday, when the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve the $67 billion takeover.


Already the nation’s 12th-largest company and its second-largest wireless phone company, the new AT&T will also be the world’s largest provider of pay TV, edging out cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable, against which it had previously struggled to compete. AT&T employs 37,000 people in Texas.


And in news that will set football fans chattering across the country, tens of millions of AT&T’s wireless, Internet and U-verse customers could eventually have access to NFL Sunday Ticket programming currently offered only to DirecTV’s customers.


"Our first order of business is to sit down with the NFL and see what they are capable of doing," said AT&T’s John Stankey, who will assume a newly created role as CEO of AT&T Entertainment & Internet Services. He will be responsible for the combined DirecTV and AT&T Home Solutions operations.


Latin American reach


The deal, which includes the assumption of about $18 billion in DirecTV debt, significantly expands the company’s reach into Latin America and links its 132 million existing wireless customers to a vast array of streaming video content that it says will be as readily available on phones, tablets and computers as it is on television.


"Combining DirecTV with AT&T is all about giving customers more choices for great video entertainment integrated with mobile and high-speed Internet service," said Randall Stephenson, who will continue as AT&T chairman and CEO. "We’ll now be able to meet consumers’ future entertainment preferences, whether they want traditional TV service with premier programming, their favorite content on a mobile device, or video streamed over the Internet to any screen.


"We’re now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition."


But whether that new and stronger company means better service or cheaper bills for consumers in an increasingly consolidated telecommunications industry remained unclear Friday.


Concerns that it might not had bedeviled the FCC’s review from the time the two companies decided to merge in May 2014. Not surprisingly, rivals among the nation’s big and small cable companies, as well as programmers like Netflix, had opposed the deal from its inception.


As late as this week, the FCC received new objections from companies and consumers alike, including one man who wrote to say that as a standalone company, DirecTV provides him with a competitive alternative to AT&T’s U-verse video service.


"AT&T has raised my monthly rate for TV from $36 to $75 over the last two years. I recently received an offer from DirecTV of $19.99 per month if I switch back," he wrote. "This kind of competition will be killed if the FCC allows AT&T to take over DirecTV."


But in congressional hearings, concerns like those were relatively muted. Even antitrust watchdogs had concluded that this merger carried far fewer risks to consumers than others, such as the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. The latter companies eventually dropped plans to merge in the face of FCC opposition.


In an interview with The Dallas Morning News on Friday, Stankey said the company will be focused on giving customers better TV service and making it easier for them to watch it no matter where they are.


"One of the things we’re cognizant of is people paying a lot of money for TV," Stankey said. "We need to be sure they still get value out of it."


He said the combined company will offer better bundle pricing, new distribution channels and new applications for mobile customers. A stand-alone DirecTV customer, for example, could bundle that video service with other AT&T services.


"Our intent is to give customers better value," Stankey said.


Still, the FCC made clear Friday that this summer’s slow consideration of the proposal came as a result of considering how a larger AT&T will affect consumers and the industry as a whole.


Conditions accepted


In a statement, the FCC said that it had approved the merger only after AT&T agreed to conditions aimed at benefiting consumers and its competitors. AT&T has agreed to speed up its deployment of its faster high-speed Internet service, known as GigaPower. By the time it’s finished, the company said, 14 million locations will have access to the superfast service.


In addition, the company will offer discounts on broadband services to low-income consumers and expand high-speed Internet to eligible schools and libraries. It also agrees to not set data usage policies that would make it cheaper or faster for customers to stream content provided by DirecTV instead of content provided by competitors.


Stankey said the vast majority of the work combining the companies will be completed over the next 24 to 36 months. He said there are at least $2.5 billion in efficiencies to be gained and much of that will be reinvested in operations.


Staff writer Michael A. Lindenberger reported from Washington and staff writer Gary Jacobson from Dallas.


mlindenberger@dallasnews.com;


gjacobson@dallasnews.com


Follow Michael A. Lindenberger on Twitter at @lindenberger.


AT A GLANCE: What you can expect


What will change for current subscribers to AT&T or DirecTV? Nothing for now, AT&T says. Billing, channel lineups and other aspects of customer service won’t change for at least several months. AT&T says the vast majority of the work combining the companies will be completed over the next 24 to 36 months.


What can consumers expect to change first? Within weeks, AT&T will launch new bundled services that offer TV, mobile and high-speed Internet service.


Will AT&T customers have access to NFL Sunday Ticket? For now that service will be available only to DirecTV customers. But AT&T says it will soon begin negotiating with the NFL to potentially extend that to its customers who do not subscribe to DirecTV.


What does this mean for cities waiting for AT&T’s GigaPower Internet access service, which the company says allows users to download a TV show in three seconds? It speeds it up, AT&T says. "When the expansion is complete, AT&T’s all-fiber broadband footprint will reach more than 14 million customer locations."


Who will lead the company? CEO Randall Stephenson remains the top executive of the new, larger company. But AT&T is creating a new division and John Stankey will be CEO of AT&T Entertainment & Internet Services. He will report to Stephenson. DirecTV chairman and CEO Mike White is retiring.


How does this fundamentally alter AT&T Inc. as a company? AT&T is best known as a wireless phone company, with 132 million wireless subscribers. But in the new company, revenue from consumer mobile customers will rank behind its business services division and the new video-focused entertainment and Internet division.


Michael A. Lindenberger


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