State attorneys general from New York, Washington, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania have joined the Justice Department's antitrust suit against the proposed $39 billion merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
Justice said Friday it was amending the suit to add those parties.
"We are pleased that these states have joined the department in its lawsuit. Together, we will seek to protect consumers from the anticompetitive harm that would result from this proposed transaction," said Justice in a statement.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of the deal's most ardent critics, applauded the moves.
"Consumers and competition have received additional reinforcements as seven states joined the Justice Department's lawsuit to take action to block AT&T's merger with T-Mobile. These states are standing up for consumer protection, not corporate consolidation that limits choice and undercuts innovation," he said. "I have consistently said this merger would inevitably divide the nation into a Bell East and a Bell West. It would be an historic mistake."
"This is one more reminder that this transaction cannot be squared with fundamental principles of antitrust law," said Media Access Project SVP Andrew Jay Schwartzman in a statement. "Now that the Justice Department and the states have challenged the deal, it is even more likely that the Federal Communications Commission will take similar action." MAP has petitioned the FCC to deny the deal.
The U.S. D.C. District Court hearing the case has scheduled a conference for Sept. 21 to discuss scheduling, while Justice has said it is willing to talk with AT&T about settling those competition issues, which would likely include divestitures and conditions imposed by the FCC.
Sprint has also sued to block the merger.
"It is not unusual for state attorneys general to participate in DOJ merger review proceedings or court filings," said AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris. "At the same time, we appreciate that 11 state attorneys general and hundreds of other local, state and federal officials are publicly supportive of our merger. We will continue to seek an expedited hearing on the DOJ's complaint. On a parallel path, we have been and remain interested in a solution that addresses the DOJ's issues with the T-Mobile merger."
"We applaud the attorneys general who joined the Justice Department's suit today to block AT&T's takeover of T-Mobile," said Craig Aaron, president of deal opponent Free Press. "They deserve praise for standing up to AT&T and standing with their citizens. They understand that families can't afford to shoulder the burden of higher bills that would result from the merger, and that states struggling with unemployment can't afford to stand aside while corporations kill competition and put people out of work. This lawsuit is yet another blow to AT&T and a victory for the public."
There are at least 11 AG's on the side of the deal, AT&T points out, from Arkansas, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North and South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.
In addition, 15 Democats led by conservative Heath Shuler (D-Tenn.), sent a letter to the President this week urging Justice to work with AT&T to settle the suit and approve the merger, which they argue will create jobs now and in the future, including through driving wireless broadband deployment to rural areas.
Opponents of the deal panned the letter, "We thought the issues of job creation and investment had long been settled," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, in a statement. "It is perfectly clear that AT&T's history has been to destroy jobs, not to create themIt is discouraging that those simple facts have not yet been accepted by policy makers who continue to push for a deal that's bad for our economy, bad for consumers and bad for technological innovation."