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Thursday, August 11, 2011, 06:55 pm PT (09:55 pm ET)

AT&T considering sale of $8B in network assets to gain approval for T-Mobile deal

AT&T has reportedly hired bankers to prepare for the possibility that it will need to sell off assets worth as much as $8 billion in order to gain regulatory approval for its proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA.

Sources told The Wall Street Journal that the wireless operator hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch to find potential buyers of customers and wireless spectrum. Internal analyses of which customer markets would have to be divested ahead of regulatory approval suggest more than $8 billion in assets could be sold off, people familiar with the matter said.

AT&T and Bank of America declined to comment on the matter, though one spokesman for the carrier did reiterate the company's earlier position that it expects to sell at least some of its assets.

"As we said on the day we announced the merger with T-Mobile USA, we anticipate there will be some divestitures, as we have had in past mergers, but any speculation about the amount of divestitures is premature," said an AT&T spokesman.

Antitrust approval for the deal could arrive as early as the first quarter of 2012, the report noted, although AT&T is said to face a "steep climb" in convincing the Federal Communications Commission chairman to sign off on it.

The FCC announced earlier this week plans to review the merger in conjunction with the proposed acquisition of wireless licenses from Qualcomm. Last month, the federal agency said its review of the deal had been delayed while it awaited new economic data from AT&T.

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D., Wis.) sent a letter to the Attorney General and FCC Chairman in July recommending that the deal be blocked. According to the senator, the deal would ""would likely cause substantial harm to competition and consumers, would be contrary to antitrust law and not in the public interest."

In May, Kohl presided over a senate subcommittee hearing that challenged AT&T and T-Mobile officials to "convince" the committee what the merits of the deal are.

AT&T announced in March the $39 billion deal with Deutsche Telekom that would give the German carrier an 8 percent stake in AT&T in exchange for its U.S. operations. The merger has quickly drawn vocal opposition from Sprint, which claims it would have difficulty competing against the resulting duopoly of AT&T and Verizon.