FTC Nudge Could Help AT & T

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The Federal Trade Commission's apparent desire to force Time Warner Inc. to unwind its Time Warner Entertainment partnership could end up being of the most benefit to AT & T Corp., which owns about 25 percent of TWE.

AT & T-which got the TWE stake after buying MediaOne Group Inc.-could divest the partnership as a way of meeting Federal Communications Commission conditions on the $56 billion MediaOne deal. AT & T has until Dec. 15 to decide whether to divest TWE, spin off Liberty Media Group or unload 9.7 million cable subscribers.

Some analysts feel that divesting Liberty is most likely, partly because Time Warner has little incentive to cut a deal. An FTC mandate would provide that incentive and improve AT & T's bargaining position.

"If [Time Warner] were required to do it, that would definitely level the playing field," said one AT & T source who asked not to be named. "One of the things under discussion with Time Warner is if they can find a tax-efficient range, they could immediately use it to pay down debt."

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