WASHINGTON - The Justice Department said Friday it wants to withdraw or postpone its antitrust case against the proposed merger between AT&T Inc. and smaller rival T-Mobile USA now that the two companies no longer have a valid application to approve the deal.
The companies took back their application with the Federal Communications Commission two weeks ago after the commission's chairman came out against the $39 billion deal. The companies have said they will seek approval from a federal judge who has scheduled a February trial on the Justice Department's case, and will file another FCC application later.
The increasing government opposition is threatening the deal, with analysts now giving it only a slim chance of going through. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joe Wayland told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle that there's "not a real transaction" until the companies file again with the FCC, and the government plans to file a motion next week to put off the case.
Huvelle gave the government until Tuesday to do so and scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the matter. Huvelle told AT&T she was concerned the company was "using" the court and wasting its time.
AT&T attorney Mark Hansen responded that the Dallas-based company did not start the court battle. The Justice Department did when it sued on Aug. 31, saying the combination of the No. 2 and No. 4 cellphone companies in the country would reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.