Justice Department Delays AT&T/T-Mobile Antitrust Case

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ADOTAS – The U.S. Justice Department wants to postpone its antitrust case aiming to block ‘s AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile, and today Justice Department attorney Joseph Wayland proposed that delay in court. The trial was originally scheduled to begin in February of 2012. According to Wayland’s statement, because AT&T withdrew its Federal Trade Commission application to acquire T-Mobile, the antitrust suit won’t be necessary.

Back in March, AT&T announced it intended to buy T-Mobile U.S.A. for $39 billion. That move would have given AT&T a massive boost in bandwidth, which the company asserted would allow it to provide better service to its customers. It also would’ve made AT&T the largest wireless provider in the U.S., and it would have left AT&T and Verizon in control of 70 percent of the domestic wireless market. The proposed merger has been under fire since then — mostly from competitor Sprint Nextel (one notch behind Verizon in U.S. market share) and from the U.S. government. It came up before committees in both houses of Congress, and the Department of Justice filed its antitrust suit on Aug. 31, citing the chances of, as deputy attorney general James Cole put it, “tens of millions of consumers across the U.S. facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for wireless services.” On Nov. 22, the FCC opposed the merger by requesting an administrative hearing — a move that surprised many who were aware of AT&T’s formidable lobbying capabilities (the Washington Post has a detailed report today on what went wrong for AT&T over the course of the proposed acquisition and resultant hearings). In the face of FCC resistance, AT&T withdrew its application to acquire T-Mobile on Nov. 24.

In spite of everything, AT&T still wants to go through with the acquisition, which means the postponement of the antitrust case leaves the company stymied. AT&T says it pulled its FCC application so it could focus on the Department of Justice case; U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle pointed out AT&T could change the terms of its deal with T-Mobile in the midst of emerging from the antitrust case and re-applying with the FCC. “You could change the deal in a month and everybody’s time will be wasted,” the judge said. That explains why the Justice Department will postpone court proceedings until AT&T and T-Mobile go before the FCC again.

German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom AG still wants the deal, because it reportedly has enough spectrum to last until the end of 2015.

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