Tuesday, December 13, 2011

AT&T, T-Mobile Merger Is On Hold

The $39 billion merger deal between AT&T Relevant Products/Services and T-Mobile is on hold. AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's owners, have asked for, and been granted, a stay of proceedings in the coming trial resulting from the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit.

On Friday, Justice had also asked to withdraw or postpone its antitrust case, because there is no longer a valid application Relevant Products/Services on file with the Federal Communications Commission. The companies withdrew their application after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he was opposed to the merger, and that he would seek to have the deal blocked.

'How to Revise'

The judge in the case, Ellen Huvelle in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., agreed Monday to halt proceedings until Jan. 18, the date requested by the companies, and to cancel a hearing for Dec. 15. By Jan. 12, AT&T must file a brief with the court as to whether it wishes to move forward with the merger.

In a statement, AT&T said it was committed to working with Deutsche Telekom to "find a solution that is in the best interests of our respective customers, shareholders and employees." It added that the companies are considering "how to revise our current transaction to achieve the necessary regulatory approvals" and to move forward on obtaining approval. There have been reports that AT&T is prepared to exclude as much as 40 percent of T-Mobile USA, if that would help obtain approval by the regulatory agencies.

Both companies were hitting several major roadblocks but, until recently, had indicated they were moving forward anyway. In late November, after Genachowski came out against the merger and asked his commission to refer the application to an administrative judge, AT&T and Deutsche Telekom withdrew their pending application.

Application Withdrawn

Genachowski had said his decision was based on review by the FCC of hundreds of thousands of documents, dozens of petitions opposing the merger, and meetings with both companies. He contended that the deal would lead to higher prices for consumers and large job losses.

The Department of Justice had filed its antitrust lawsuit against AT&T in August. Justice had said that "the elimination of T-Mobile as an independent, low-priced rival would remove a significant competitive force from the market."

Many observers had speculated that the one-two punch of the FCC and the Justice Department, if either and certainly if both succeeded in their legal actions, would most likely be enough to kill the merger.

On Nov. 23, both companies withdrew their applications. On Thanksgiving, the companies announced in a statement that they were "continuing to pursue" the sale, and were focusing their efforts on "obtaining antitrust clearance for the transaction from the Department of Justice," either through the DOJ litigation currently pending in federal court, "or alternative means."

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