Citing a scheduling conflict, presiding judge Ellen Huvelle of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C has postponed the next scheduled hearing in the ongoing battle between AT&T, and the U.S. Justice Department that is currently suing on anti-trust grounds to stop its planned merger with T-Mobile. Though this will not delay the start of the trial, currently scheduled to begin in February, 2012, the timing is curious. It follows just days after AT&T withdrew its FCC application for the planned merger after the commission requested to 'review' the application in the wake of a report indicating serious harm to consumers would follow. Though the scheduling conflict is no doubt sincere, the additional time will provide the court with plenty of opportunity to review those prior events in advance of whatever questions may be posed to AT&T during the hearing.
The matter is further complicated by statements from the FCC, in response to AT&T's withdrawn application, that they can either reject the request and force the matter through the courts, or grant it 'with prejudice', which means AT&T would not be able to refile at a later date. Either option sends a strong signal that the American government is not supportive of the merger, a development with tremendous potential for consumers uninterested in supporting the creation of a phone service duopoly. AT&T intends to fight, naturally, as the company has a lot riding on the merger. Should the courts find for the Justice Department, they'll be on the hook to T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom for 4 billion dollars.