AT&T-DOJ Trial Likely Delayed

AT&T on Monday announced it wants to stay proceedings in an antitrust lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice over its acquisition of T-Mobile USA.

The company and T-Mobile’s parent, Deutsche Telekom, asked a federal judge to stay the proceedings until Jan. 18, 2012 in order “to allow the two companies to evaluate all options,” AT&T said in a press release.

The Justice Department, which has sued AT&T to block the $39 billion merger and was scheduled to try its case in February, joined in the filing.

The chances of Dallas-based AT&T obtaining government approvals to acquire T-Mobile USA appear to be increasingly remote. AT&T and Deutsche Telekom recently withdrew their applications for Federal Communications Commission approval of the merger after learning that the agency planned to request an administrative hearing on the deal. FCC staff blasted the merits of the agreement in a report that was recently disclosed to the public. If Judge Ellen S. Huvelle of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia grants a stay in the antitrust case, the merger proceedings will be further delayed  putting the fate of the deal into greater doubt.  

“AT&T is committed to working with Deutsche Telekom to find a solution that is in the best interests of our respective customers, shareholders and employees,” AT&T said in a statement. “We are actively considering whether and how to revise our current transaction to achieve the necessary regulatory approvals so that we can deliver the capacity enhancements and improved customer service that can only be derived from combining our two companies’ wireless assets.”

Even if AT&T prevailed in a trial against the Justice Department or negotiated an out-of-court settlement, it still needs FCC approval to close the deal. The FCC must find the transaction is in the public interest in order to approve the merger between the nation’s second-largest and fourth-largest wireless providers, yet the agency’s staff reached the opposite conclusion.

The merger would create the largest wireless company in the United States, surpassing Verizon Wireless and boasting two-and-a-half times the number of subscribers as Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless operator, according to the FCC’s report, which concluded that the proposed deal “would likely lead to a substantial lessening of competition in violation of the Clayton Act.”

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