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DOJ trial against AT&T, Time Warner merger starts March 19

AT&T will have to wait until March to find out if it can purchase Time Warner for $85 billion.

The trial to decide whether AT&T can buy Time Warner will start March 19, a federal district judge said on Thursday.

The legal fight will proceed after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T in an effort block its proposed $85 billion half stock and half cash takeover of Time Warner.

Judge Richard Leon at the US District Court for the District of Columbia set the date in a pre-trial hearing, according to Reuters. In court on Thursday, AT&T was hoping for the trial to begin on Feb. 20, while the Justice Department wanted it to begin on May 7.

Time Warner's network portfolio includes HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT, and Cinemax, among others, and according to the DOJ's case presented in November, the "combined company would abuse its control to hinder its rivals by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions more per year for the rights to distribute those networks."

If the proposed deal announced in October 2016 falls through, AT&T faces a potential break up fee of $500 million. AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said in November the company has no intention to settle with the Justice Department.

"Obviously, we're surprised to be here, and candidly, I'm a bit troubled by it," Stephenson said. The lawsuit, he said, "stretches the very reach of antitrust law beyond the breaking point."

Using bundled mobile broadband and video, AT&T said the combined company would work to become the first US mobile provider to compete with cable companies nationwide. The telco also said the deal would usher in new forms of original content built for mobile and social platforms.