updated 8/31/2005 9:05:22 PM ET 2005-09-01T01:05:22

The nation’s five largest wireless carriers don’t engage in antitrust practices by persuading customers to buy certain handsets to subscribe to their services, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote tossed out a group of five lawsuits brought by wireless phone customers who claimed that since 1998 the companies had unlawfully tied the sale of handsets to the sale of wireless services.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Cote wrote that the plaintiffs had not provided proof that any defendant had the marketing power necessary to damage competition in the U.S. cellular phone market by using the practice.

The carriers are AT&T Wireless Services Inc., Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless LLC, T-Mobile USA Inc. and Sprint Spectrum LP.

The judge also noted that all except AT&T said in court briefs that they did not tie the sale of handsets to the sale of wireless service.

The lawsuits were filed in April 2002 by customers who said the defendants had, in effect, created a monopoly.

The judge noted the Federal Communications Commission had repeatedly described the wireless market as competitive. Verizon’s market share was the largest at 24 percent, while the other four companies held 8 percent to 18 percent, Cote said.

The FCC permitted Cingular and AT&T Wireless to merge in part because it concluded that the other companies could resist any exercise of power by the new company, the judge said.

Calls to the plaintiff’s attorney seeking comment were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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