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Hawaii joins lawsuit to stop $26.5B Sprint-T-Mobile merger

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NEW YORK >> Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada are joining the legal fight against T-Mobile’s $26.5 billion bid for Sprint in a case that lawyers on both sides say they hope will reach trial in October.

Beau Buffier, a lawyer for New York state’s attorney general, told a judge at a Manhattan federal court hearing today that the states were added to a rewritten version of a lawsuit filed 10 days ago.

Nine other states and the District of Columbia had sued to block the merger, saying it will reduce competition and damage consumers by driving up prices for cellphone service.

The companies — the third and fourth largest mobile wireless networks in the U.S. — say the merger is necessary for them to upgrade to a fast, powerful “5G” mobile network that competes with Verizon and AT&T. President Donald Trump has said he wants the U.S. to “win” a global 5G race.

The Justice Department has not yet spoken on whether the deal complies with antitrust laws. The Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission supports the deal.

At the lawsuit’s first hearing today, T-Mobile attorney George Cary defended the merger, saying the deal will improve competition by combining T-Mobile, with 79 million subscribers, and Sprint, with 54 million subscribers, letting them compete more effectively against the bigger players.

He said the combined T-Mobile and Sprint will be “much more competitive.”

Attorney Paula Blizzard, representing California, disputed Cary’s claims, saying a disruption to the competitive balance of phone companies would injure millions of consumers.

“We think the competition now has benefited Americans, Californians,” she said.

Both sides recommended an Oct. 7 trial date.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero did not agree to the date yet, saying any trial date will depend in part on what the Justice Department does.

“The elephant not in this room is the Justice Department. The Justice Department has not yet weighed in on this matter. I understand it is under consideration. They may or may not take a position,” Marrero said.

The judge said he wasn’t ready to hear debate on issues raised by the lawsuit, but he told lawyers to be prepared to explain later how such a big deal survives a presumption that it would increase antitrust behaviors. He also wants to know how it would affect competition in rural areas.

Steven Sunshine, a Sprint attorney, told Marrero that it’s believed that a Justice Department decision is imminent and is likely to be in line with what the Federal Communications Commission was doing.

The new states joined New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In a release, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said the merger will make it harder for people in Minnesota “to afford their lives.”

“When Minnesotans and Americans everywhere are already struggling to afford their lives, more market consolidation is the last thing they need,” he said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the state’s yearlong investigation of the proposed merger concluded it would give the new company the power to raise prices, significantly reduce competition for customers and cost thousands of retail workers their jobs.

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