Updated at 3 p.m.
AT&T and T-Mobile on Monday asked a federal judge to postpone an antitrust lawsuit as the companies were assessing “whether and how” to proceed with their $39 billion mega-merger.
The announcement signals that the deal as originally conceived is all but dead. The two companies could still seek ways to retool the terms to address the concerns of regulators.
The decision comes after Washington regulators from two agencies — the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission — sought to block the deal, saying it could lead to higher prices for consumers and stifle competition. The union would have combined the second- and fourth-largest wireless providers.
Justice sued in August to block the deal. Last month, the FCC said it would not approve it either. AT&T had planned to use its lawsuit with Justice to prove its case in court and use that victory to convince FCC officials. But when Justice attorneys last week said it would postpone or withdraw its case so that AT&T couldn’t use the case to influence other regulators, AT&T officials saw the writing on the wall.
The federal judge overseeing the case, Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, agreed Monday to the companies’ request. She had revealed last week that she was skeptical of AT&T’s strategy.
AT&T said it still wants to explore a new construction of the deal that may appease federal regulators. Last month, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said he opposed the deal. AT&T responded by withdrawing its application at the FCC.
"AT&T is committed to working with Deutsche Telekom to find a solution that is in the best interests of our respective customers, shareholders and employees,” AT&T said in a statement. “We are actively considering whether and how to revise our current transaction to achieve the necessary regulatory approvals so that we can deliver the capacity enhancements and improved customer service that can only be derived from combining our two companies' wireless assets."
Analysts called the companies’ move a last-ditch effort and that the odds were against a reworked deal that would appease regulators.
“To say AT&T’s back is against the wall is a huge understatement,” said Jeff Silva, an analyst at Global Medley Advisors. “It’s even unclear whether a restructured deal would fair much better in this administration.”
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