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AT&T has engaged Goldman Sachs as an advisor to explore acquiring satellite TV broadcaster EchoStar, TheStreet.com reported on its website Tuesday. A source familiar with the companies says Goldman came on board about a month ago, just at the time EchoStar announced it was considering spinning off its TV broadcasting operations from its satellite transmission unit. Earlier Tuesday, a Citigroup analyst surmised the propsed spinoff was a ploy to get AT&T to move forward with merger talks, since a spinoff would likely preclude AT&T from acquiring the assets for two years (full story). "I think they want to get this deal done this year, I'd give it three to six weeks to put it together," one source said. An acquisition would give AT&T "a technical hedge against potential speed-bumps" related to its current fiber strategy, and would give it "a national footprint to pursue a wireless triple-play" (DBS video, wireless voice and data), Citi said. Observers say the push to move forward stems from concerns a Democratic administration, if elected in 2008, might be less deal-friendly than the current administration. EchoStar's $380 million deal to purchase TV-over-the-Internet device maker Slingbox last month (full story) might also be part of a future key service offering, a source says. EchoStar shares are up 3.3% to $50.68, while AT&T shares are down 0.6% to $41.96 in midday trading.

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Source: AT&T Hires Goldman to Advise on EchoStar Buyout - TheStreet