The chiefs of AT&T and Sprint Nextel took their battles to the stage Tuesday, trading jabs over whether AT&T should be allowed to merge with T-Mobile.

Sprint Nextel chief executive Dan Hesse continued his drumbeat to block the merger during a keynote speech at the CTIA convention in San Diego. He said the merger would eliminate competition and jokingly compared AT&T Mobility chief executive Ralph de la Vega to John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin.

De la Vega fired back during his own keynote. He said he doesn’t mind being compared to stage actor Booth. But he added that Hesse, known for his very public complaints about AT&T’s merger, is also “the best actor in wireless, right?”

Sprint has been the most vocal opponent of AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile. The Overland Park, Kan., wireless firm said in a Congressional hearing last spring that Sprint may not survive as a stand-alone firm if AT&T consolidates with T-Mobile, allowing eight out of 10 wireless contracts to be controlled by AT&T and Verizon.

Sprint Nextel and C Spire asked a federal judge on Friday to hear their complaint aimed at blocking the $39 billion merger. The filing in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia was in reply to AT&T’s motion at the end of last month to dismiss its rivals’ lawsuits.

Verizon Wireless chief executive Dan Mead also spoke, warning against government regulations, which he said would slow down the explosive growth of the mobile industry. Verizon is suing the Federal Communications Commission to overturn so-called net neutrality rules.

“We have a responsibility to ensure we are operating as industry with high level of integrity so we don’t incur . . . government intervention,” Mead said.


Sprint defends suit to block AT&T, T-Mobile merger

Netflix proclaims Internet as future but warns of data caps

GOP lawmakers scrutinize LightSquared wireless venture