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AT&T Antitrust Trial Date Set For February 13, 2012

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(Reuters) - A U.S. judge set a February 13 start for a trial over whether AT&T Inc (T.N) can buy rival T-Mobile USA despite competitive concerns raised in a lawsuit by the Obama administration's Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle set aside 6 weeks for the non-jury trial. There was no discussion during the 80-minute scheduling hearing of any settlement of the case.

The Justice Department sued last month to block AT&T's $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile, owned by Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE), for fear it would raise prices for consumers and hamper competition and innovation.

The trial date falls between the government's request to begin March 19 and AT&T's petition for a January 16 date. Lawyers for the parties said the matter was unlikely to need six weeks.

Mark Hansen, one of AT&T's lawyers, had pressed the judge for a quick trial to provide certainty to the companies and the market, saying they were "already months beyond where we want to be."

The deal would combine the No. 2 and No. 4 wireless carriers. The companies could find it difficult to hold the deal together through a long proceeding and investors' patience could wane.

The ceremonial courtroom of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was used for the scheduling hearing. The bigger space was needed to accommodate the large legal teams involved in the case.

Sprint Nextel (S.N), the No. 3 wireless carrier, has sued separately to block the deal, but Huvelle refused to consolidate the cases and set an October 24 date for arguments over AT&T's planned motion to dismiss that case. She said she planned to decide that issue "as swiftly as possible."

The case is USA v. AT&T, T-Mobile USA Inc and Deutsche Telekom AG, No. 11-1560.

(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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