U.S. Court Hearing Produces Trial Date for ATandT, T-Mobile Antitrust Case
News Analysis: There was no discussion of settlement proposals as a U.S. District Court judge set Feb. 13, 2012 as the starting date for a trial of the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust suit seeking to block the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S District Court for the District of
Columbia set Feb. 13, 2012 as the starting date for the trial of the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit that seeks to permanently block AT&T's $39 billion buyout of competing wireless telecommunications company T-Mobile.
The date, selected by the judge during a Sept. 21 preliminary hearing on the antitrust lawsuit, splits the difference between AT&T's request for a mid-January trial and the government's request for a mid-March trial, setting the start date for February 13, 2012.
Judge Huvelle sought to streamline the case proceeding by declining to combine Sprint's antitrust suit with the government's suit. But she scheduled an Oct. 24 hearing to listen to arguments on whether to combine the cases as well as to hear AT&T's motion to dismiss Sprint's antitrust lawsuit. AT&T is questioning Sprint's right to sue in the merger case, despite the fact that such suits are explicitly permitted by the Clayton Act.
An additional antitrust suit filed earlier in the week by Cellular South was not discussed in Sept. 21's hearing, although attorneys for the company attended the hearing. A hearing date for the Cellular South antitrust suit has not been set. However, several participants in the hearings told eWEEK that combining that company's suit with the DoJ's case is unlikely because Cellular South is pursuing a different line of arguments.
During Sept. 21's hearing, Judge Huvelle said that Sprint's participation in the DoJ case would prolong the trial, which is currently set to last for six weeks. During discussions, Judge Huvelle said that she expected the actual trial to be over in four to six weeks.
While Judge Huvelle had told the parties in the antitrust suit to be ready to discuss the prospects for a settlement at Wednesday's hearing, the topic never came up. AT&T has said that it's eager to discuss a settlement and the DoJ has said that it's willing to listen to settlement proposals that would satisfy the government's concerns.
However, it would appear that AT&T isn't prepared to propose such a settlement itself. The reason, according to an observer close to the case who asked not to be identified, is that the DoJ can't think of any settlement besides blocking the merger that wouldn't violate antitrust laws in some way.
The other reason may be that Sprint has already said that there is no settlement that would satisfy it. AT&T charged Sept. 21 the reason that Sprint won't agree to a settlement is it wants to acquire T-Mobile itself. However, Sprint has not made any statements regarding the possible acquisition of T-Mobile. Meanwhile, AT&T has launched a series of ads in Washington, D.C. newspapers accusing Sprint of being disingenuous and being more interested in its own needs rather than the needs of consumers.