Ready to take ATT to court - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

WASHINGTON Tue Nov 8, 2011 5:00pm GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department's antitrust division is prepared to take AT&T Inc to court to stop its acquisition of T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Senator Herb Kohl, chairman of the Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, acknowledged that Holder was recused in the matter but asked if the department would be in the case "for the long haul."

Holder responded that "people in the antitrust division are committed to seeing this through."

"There is a trial team that is in place and they are ready and eager to go to court," he told the oversight hearing.

The Justice Department trial team is headed by Joseph Wayland, who won a ruling on October 31 blocking tax preparer H&R Block Inc from acquiring a smaller rival.

The Justice Department in August sued to block the $39 billion (24 billion pounds) wireless deal, which would vault No. 2 ranked AT&T into the leading position in the U.S. wireless market. T-Mobile is the No. 4 operator.

The current industry leader is Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

Sprint, the No. 3 U.S. carrier, has also sued to stop the deal.

In addition to concerns about market concentration, the government believes that the loss of T-Mobile could push up wireless prices since T-Mobile generally costs less than other carriers.

AT&T argues the deal will accelerate its expansion of high-speed wireless service to nearly all Americans.

The Justice Department case against the deal is due to go to trial on February 13.

The cases are USA v. AT&T, T-Mobile USA Inc and Deutsche Telekom AG, case No. 11-1560; Sprint Nextel Corp v. AT&T Inc et al, No. 11-1600; and Cellular South v. AT&T, No. 11-1690. The three challenges are all before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Tim Dobbyn)