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AT&T, T-Mobile merger opponents want withdrawal blocked

Tue, 11/29/2011 - 1:41pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Two advocacy groups want the FCC to block AT&T's attempt to withdraw its application to merge with T-Mobile USA, a move designed to help the operator avoid a protracted administrative hearing over the deal and give it more resources to settle the Justice Department's lawsuit over the transaction.

Public Knowledge and Media Access Project yesterday asked the FCC to deny AT&T's withdrawal motion and vote on its order to designate the merger to a hearing.

"This withdrawal request was intended to give AT&T a tactical advantage in the parties' case against the Department of Justice in federal district court," the groups said in documents filed with the FCC. "Applicants [AT&T and Deutsche Telekom] have made no secret of their desire to short-circuit a true review on the basis of facts via a procedural loophole."

AT&T could not be immediately reached for comment but has stated publically that the withdrawal of its application would allow it to focus on its efforts to reach a settlement with the DOJ before the start of the antitrust trial in February.

If the FCC decides to move forward with its proposed hearing on the deal, opponents to the merger like Public Knowledge and Media Access Project would be able to testify during the trial-type event. The groups have been stridently opposed to the buyout, arguing it will harm competition, raise prices and cut jobs.

The FCC said last week it would push the deal to an administrative law judge after it was unable to approve the massive buyout, but it has yet to vote on the order. Public Knowledge and Media Access Project are pushing the agency to make the order available to the general public.

"Issuance of the HDO (hearing designation order) will prove invaluable to the determination of the antitrust complaint," the groups said.

AT&T withdrew its application to acquire T-Mobile's spectrum licenses shortly after the FCC announced its decision, claiming the move effectively prevented the agency from holding a hearing on the transaction. The operator has threatened to take legal action against the FCC if it pushes forward with the hearing.

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