AT&T battle with US regulators may drag on for years

AN epic court battle between the US government and AT&T is set to dominate the telecoms landscape, with sources close to the network saying it will not accept regulators blocking its $39bn (£24bn) bid for T-Mobile USA.

AT&T’s general counsel said it plans to seek an expedited hearing from the judge.

But the firm faces an uphill struggle to resurrect the deal, with regulators scuppering two previous telecoms mergers – MCI’s proposed takeover of Sprint in 1999 and EchoStar Communication’s deal to buy Hughes Electronic’s DirecTV in 2001.

Experts say the company could decide that it is not worth the expense and uncertainty to go to trial.

The case has been assigned to US district judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who also oversaw the EchoStar-Hughes antitrust court challenge.

Any trial in the AT&T case would be lengthy and complicated, with experts predicting that both sides would put on a parade of witnesses including consumers, economists, and possibly competitors or state regulators.

In its complaint, the Justice Department argued that AT&T has overwhelming power in the national market – it is one of four major carriers – and that the market for mobile telecommunications would be highly concentrated.

AT&T will argue the deal would create efficiencies in terms of price, quality and innovation.

If the case goes to trial, it could drag on for years, with the eventual losing side likely to appeal.