Analysts and antitrust experts said that any approval would have to come with tough conditions, such as forcing the new company to give up some of its airwaves in certain markets to allow for continued competition.
The FCC also could require AT&T to abide by tough rules guaranteeing open Internet access on its expanded wireless network, even though last year FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pushed through so-called net neutrality rules that angered many Internet providers and congressional Republicans.
Such conditions usually aren't permanent, but they still could demonstrate that open Internet access isn't an onerous burden for wireless companies, said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America.
Other conditions targeting high early termination fees and text message charges could help make the wireless market more competitive, Cooper said.
"Use the merger as a lever to fix all these problems," Cooper argued. "They will comply, they will make the model work, and then you'll have the proof positive that what you wanted can be extended to the rest of the industry."
Cooper said his view isn't shared by other public interest advocates, who have strongly criticized the deal as harming competition.
"You'll have public interest opposition. You'll have industry opposition," Cooper said. "There's no doubt it's going to be a humongous regulatory battle."
Times staff writer David Sarno contributed to this report.