Ina Fried

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AT&T May Have to Go All or Nothing With T-Mobile Deal

Although regulators have indicated they are open to discussions with AT&T regarding ways to make the T-Mobile deal palatable, finding suitable concessions could be tough.

In a surprisingly early and decisive move, the Department of Justice on Wednesday filed suit to block AT&T’s planned $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile USA. Justice Department attorneys said that they are concerned the deal will lessen competition, ultimately leading to higher prices for consumers.

Experts say the broad worry about the reduction in competition makes it tough to imagine what sort of sweeteners the companies could create to make the deal easier to swallow.

“Given the nature of the specific concerns articulated by the DOJ, those types of concerns are hard to address through concessions,” said Maury Mechanick, a telecommunications attorney with White & Case.

As a result, it would appear that AT&T and T-Mobile will have to weigh whether they are willing endure an all-out court fight to try to preserve the deal.

And oh, what a fight it would be. In order for the deal to go forward, AT&T would have to convince a federal court to see things its way as well as prevail on any appeals, a process that is uncertain, not to mention costly and time-consuming. Even if they ultimately prevail in court, the companies still need the approval of the Federal Communications Commission.

Both FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Michael Copps issued statements on Wednesday saying that they, too, have concerns about the deal. While the FCC review is separate from the one being done by the Justice Department, the statements indicate the two agencies seem to be on the same page when it comes to the deal.

One FCC insider noted that the agency has never approved a deal that the Justice Department sued to block.

For now, both AT&T and T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom say they are willing to fight for the deal. AT&T has asked for an expedited hearing on the matter.

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