AT&T has asked the federal judge controlling the government's suit to bar its takeover of T-Mobile USA for access to records of rival Sprint-Nextel. Sprint filed its own motion seeking to deny it.
Judge Ellen S. Huvelle in Washington previously set Feb. 13 for trial on the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust case to prevent the $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile, the No. 4 wireless carrier, by AT&T, which is No. 1. Sprint is now No. 3, behind New York-based Verizon Communications.
The judge scheduled a hearing on various motions for Oct. 24. Until then, she has refused to permit access to all records, including materials in a separate suit against the takeover filed by Sprint, based in Overland Park, Kan.
AT&T seeks materials showing various deals Sprint has made since 2004, covering things such as its $36 billion takeover of the former Nextel, purchase of Virgin Mobile USA and investment in Clearwire, the Bellevue, Wash.-based provider of high-speed broadband service.
Sprint, in its own filing, complained that Dallas-based AT&T's request goes far beyond the scope of the government's case, which seeks to prevent AT&T from buying T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom under the Clayton Act, which dates from the Robber Baron era of the 19th century.
Other smaller carriers, including CenturyLink and CellularSouth have filed separate suits supporting the Justice Department, alleging that enlarging AT&T would reduce mobile competition.
Bruce Schneider, antitrust lawyer with Stroock in New York, told IBTimes the government's case is unusually strong because it's a four to three merger, suggesting that if it concludes, competition would be reduced.
In similar cases, judges have barred mergers on these grounds, Schneider told IBTimes.
So far, 11 state attorneys general have filed briefs supporting the government while 16 have filed briefs against it.
AT&T's bid for T-Mobile, also based in Bellevue, Wash., may in part be due to Apple's success with the iPhone, first introduced in 2007. Until this year, AT&T was the exclusive iPhone network operator, which caused problems as users ate up bandwidth.
Subsequently, Apple added Verizon and this month, Sprint-Nextel, to its iPhone network. Sprint is now supporting the iPhone 4S. T-Mobile, meanwhile, had built substantial 4G technology into its systems.It doesn't offer support for the iPhone family.
If Judge Huvelle stops the T-Mobile acquisition, AT&T could be liable to pay a $3 billion breakup fee and provide services valued as high as $3 billion.
AT&T shares closed at $29.09, down 12 cents Wednesday, while Sprint shares fell 8 cents to $2.80. AT&T's market capitalization is $173.4 billion compared with Sprint's $8.4 billion.