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U.S. Clears the Way for Antitrust Crackdown

"If a company is going to fail and leave the market, it may be more difficult for the agency to challenge the merger," Barnett said.

Critics said that under Bush the enforcement of antitrust violations shifted overseas to European and Asian nations that were said to be more aggressive in investigating allegations.

As early as this week, the European Commission is expected to decide whether to fine Intel over allegations that it used its dominant position in the semiconductor market to deter customers from buying chips from Advanced Micro Devices. The European antitrust regulatory body will next month also look into allegations that Microsoft tied its Web browser to its dominant operating system software, edging out rivals.

Public interest groups said consolidation in the high-tech and telecom industry has left consumers with fewer choices for cellphones and service providers, less innovation, and higher prices for broadband Internet and wireless services than in many other nations.

U.S. cellphone users pay an average of $506 a year, while users in the developed nations belonging to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development pay $439, Chris Murray, senior counsel for Consumers Union, said in a House hearing last week on competition in the wireless industry.

"Considering that the very same companies who this industry was supposed to compete against, telephone monopolies, have now purchased and merged their way to be the two dominant wireless companies, some serious oversight is warranted," Murray said in his testimony.

Analysts said investors are closely watching the fates of Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, the nation's third- and fourth-largest wireless operators, which each quarter lose subscribers to Verizon and AT&T. Rumors of a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile's parent firm, Deutsche Telecom, abound for similar reasons.

Last month, Oracle announced that it planned to acquire Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion, a transaction that would have to be approved by the Justice Department. A merger between concert services giants Live Nation and Ticketmaster is also under review.

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