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AT&T merger trial to go twice as long as first estimate

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The Justice Department's court fight to stop AT&T Inc from acquiring Time Warner Inc could last as long as eight weeks, the judge hearing the case said, twice as long as the initial estimate.

[WASHINGTON] The Justice Department's court fight to stop AT&T Inc from acquiring Time Warner Inc could last as long as eight weeks, the judge hearing the case said, twice as long as the initial estimate.

US District Judge Richard Leon said on Thursday in Washington that he calculated the time-frame for the trial, which is slated to start March 19, based on the number of people expected to testify and the volume of exhibits.

The US government sued to block AT&T's planned US$85.4 billion acquisition in November, arguing it would harm competition and increase costs for consumers. The deal would marry the biggest US telecommunications company with the owner of Turner Broadcasting, CNN and HBO.

The US claims consumers nationwide would pay US$36 million more a month for pay-TV. The companies, citing the government economist's figures, said the price increase would be just 45 US cents per subscriber per month.

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The trial starts on Monday with a legal battle over what evidence should be allowed in, while opening arguments where each side lays out its case will start March 21. Even if the trial runs for eight weeks, the companies should still be able to get a ruling in time for their June 22 merger deadline.

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