AT&T-Time Warner merger trial set for March

A federal judge has scheduled March 19 as the start date for a trial that will determine the fate of AT&T's proposed merger with Time Warner.

The date represents a middle ground between the February date that AT&T wanted and the April date that the government requested. The date picked is more reflective of the judge's busy calendar than either of the parties' wishes, and AT&T was told at a hearing it won't get a decision before an April 22 deadline for effectuating the merger. An extension of that deadline can probably be negotiated.

RELATED: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson through the years

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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson through the years
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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson through the years
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee during a hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L) and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes listen to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L) and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., from left, speaks while Jeffrey 'Jeff' Bewkes, chairman and chief executive officer of Time Warner Inc., listens during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Stephenson told Congress his company's planned $85.4 billion purchase of HBO and CNN owner Time Warner Inc. will help the telecommunications provider challenge cable companies for customers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes (C) and Chairman of AXS TV and owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban are sworn in before a Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., swears into a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. AT&T Inc. Stephenson told Congress his company's planned $85.4 billion purchase of HBO and CNN owner Time Warner Inc. will help the telecommunications provider challenge cable companies for customers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Randall Stephenson (L) speaks as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Time Warner Jeffrey Bewkes listens during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Stephenson told Congress his company's planned $85.4 billion purchase of HBO and CNN owner Time Warner Inc. will help the telecommunications provider challenge cable companies for customers. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump (C), flanked by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (L) and Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens (R), holds an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump (C), flanked by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) Managing General Partner Peter Barris, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens, Honeywell President Darius Adamczyk and White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, holds an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump greets AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (C) as he arrives for an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shows U.S. President Donald Trump a model of how his company plans to install 5G networks in urban settings during in an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shows U.S. President Donald Trump a model of how his company plans to install 5G networks in urban settings during in an event highlighting emerging technologies, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
AT&T's Randall Stephenson (L) speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with technology and telecommunications executives at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 04: Chairman and CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson speaks onstage during Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 4, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 04: Chairman and CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson and Deputy Editor Stephanie Mehta speak onstage during Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 4, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., speaks during the International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) InterConnect 2017 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. IBM InterConnect brings together industry leaders with sessions dedicated to the education and development skills needed to elevate businesses with cloud computing. Photographer: David Becker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., left, speaks as Ginni Rometty, chief executive officer of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), smiles during the IBM InterConnect 2017 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. IBM InterConnect brings together industry leaders with sessions dedicated to the education and development skills needed to elevate businesses with cloud computing. Photographer: David Becker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., reacts during a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., right, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., arrives at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The Justice Department is attempting to block the merger on antitrust grounds by asserting that AT&T would hinder its rivals by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for Time Warner's networks, including Turner and HBO. The government also alleges the marriage would slow the development of newer video distribution models.

The defendants, including AT&T subsidiary DirecTV, respond that no antitrust precedent supports the stopping of a vertical merger between a supplier and a distributor. They have hinted at a defense premised on how the deal will allow the merged company to "compete more effectively against market-leading cable incumbents and insurgent tech giants."

AT&T's attorneys also have stressed that it's the government's burden to prove the deal would harm competition.

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