Hearing date set in AT&T, DOJ case

Judge Ellen Huvelle plans to review the possibility of a settlement between AT&T and the Justice Department, which has filed a complaint against AT&T for its proposal to buy T-Mobile.

A federal judge has kicked off the hearing process on the Department of Justice's complaint against AT&T's T-Mobile bid.

Judge Ellen Huvelle has ordered AT&T and the Justice Department to be present at a hearing on September 21. The conference will allow the parties to "discuss the prospects for settlement," according to The New York Times, which first reported on the hearing.

The possibility of a settlement being struck between the Justice Department and AT&T has been rumored as of late. Last week, Reuters reported that AT&T might agree to divest up to 25 percent of T-Mobile USA's assets , including wireless spectrum, in order to make its $39 billion acquisition bid more amenable to government regulators.

Related stories:
• Justice Dept. to block AT&T's T-Mobile deal
• AT&T looks to make a deal with DOJ on T-Mobile (report)
• Sprint files suit to block AT&T's T-Mobile merger

However, whether or not the Justice Department would accept such a deal remains to be seen.

Last week, the Justice Department said in a statement accompanying its announcement of its suit to block the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile USA that it believes a combined AT&T and T-Mobile could harm both competition in the wireless industry and consumers.

"The combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices, and lower-quality products for mobile wireless services," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a statement announcing the Justice Department's decision. "Consumers across the country, including those in rural areas and those with lower incomes, benefit from competition among the nation's wireless carriers, particularly the four remaining national carriers. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that everyone can continue to receive the benefits of that competition."

But AT&T has more to worry about than the Justice Department. Just yesterday, Sprint announced that it too had filed suit over AT&T's T-Mobile merger , claiming it violates the Clayton Anti-Trust Act. The complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is "brazenly anticompetitive."

Amid the lawsuits, AT&T must also not forget about the Federal Communications Commission. That government branch has yet to make its final determination on the deal, but seemed to indicate last week that it wasn't pleased with what it has seen so far.

"By filing suit today, the Justice Department has concluded that AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile would substantially lessen competition in violation of the antitrust laws," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement following the Justice Department's lawsuit announcement. "Competition is an essential component of the FCC's statutory public interest analysis, and although our process is not complete, the record before this agency also raises serious concerns about the impact of the proposed transaction on competition."

For its part, AT&T has stuck by its contention that the deal is good for both the industry and consumers.

"At the end of the day, we believe facts will guide any final decision and the facts are clear," an AT&T spokesman told CNET last week. "This merger will help solve our nation's spectrum exhaust situation and improve wireless service for millions; allow AT&T to expand 4G mobile broadband to another 55 million Americans, or 97 percent of the population; [and] result in billions of additional investment and tens of thousands of jobs, at a time when our nation needs them most."

AT&T declined CNET's request for comment on the September 21 hearing.

 

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