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Judge's history may predict ruling in AT&T/T-Mobile merger

A proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is being challenged in court by antitrust regulators in the U.S. Department of Justice.

The U.S. district judge hearing the case previously ruled in favor of an acquisition by AT&T of Dobson Communications. In that case, the judge's decision was not affected by arguments against the deal that were brought by a small regional competitor.

The judge must now consider arguments brought by the Department of Justice that suggest the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile would violate antitrust laws and would dramatically affect competition for cellphone services. As in the previous case involving AT&T that was heard by the judge, smaller cellphone competitors have again spoken out against the proposed merger saying that it would affect their ability to compete in the market.

In another recent case, the same judge ruled against the Department of Justice, which had opposed a merger between two major data management companies. As a result, some believe she will find in favor of the AT&T merger with T-Mobile and allow it to go through.

A Washington antitrust lawyer interviewed in a recent Bloomberg piece agreed that the judge assignment is a good one for AT&T and not as good for the DOJ. AT&T has argued that a merger will be good for consumers.

The attorney interviewed by Bloomberg said that in this merger case, the government will have to clearly demonstrate to the judge why competitive services offered by smaller providers do not offer a good alternative to consumers who cannot afford the rates charged by the bigger companies. The government will not be able to speak in just general terms, which the attorney believed they often do, because the judge does not accept general arguments.

The merger is set to go through next March. No matter how the judge rules in the case, she is expected to rule quickly. In her more than 20 years on the bench, she has a reputation for being fast and efficient.

Source: Bloomberg, "AT&T Antitrust Judge's Earlier Rulings May Play Role in T-Mobile Decision," Tom Schoenberg, Sept. 11, 2011


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