AT&T's decision to withdraw its application to obtain T-Mobile USA's mobile spectrum license at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission raises a question about whether the company's proposed acquisition is still active, the U.S. Department of Justice has said.
The DOJ Tuesday noted that AT&T has withdrawn its license transfer application at the FCC, with the company saying a withdrawal represents an intent to "abandon the transaction altogether" or to submit a new, substantially changed application.
AT&T decided to withdraw the application after the FCC announced that staff there had found the US$39 billion merger contrary to the public interest. The FCC had intended to refer the license application to a hearing before an administrative law judge.
The DOJ, in a Tuesday telephone conference, questioned whether AT&T's merger application was still active, wrote Richard Levie, a special master overseeing the DOJ's antitrust case against the merger. "DOJ interprets these comments to mean that the current litigation may, in fact, not present a live case or controversy," Levie wrote in an order.
But Levie, who was appointed special master in the case at the request of both AT&T and the DOJ, said he believes the DOJ case can move forward without a license transfer application pending at the FCC.
"The FCC-related activities have not ... altered the status of this litigation," he wrote. "Although FCC approval is necessary for the proposed merger, so, too, is a favorable ruling from the federal court in this case. As there is no requirement of which the Special Master is aware that one approval must come before the other, the federal court case remains on track."
A trial in the antitrust case is scheduled to begin on Feb. 13.
An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on the DOJ's questions about the status of the merger. A scheduling conference in the antitrust case is scheduled for Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Levie's Wednesday order denied a motion by mobile broadband firm LightSquared to quash an AT&T request to depose LightSquared officers. A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on the nature of the deposition.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.