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Wisconsin joins multistate cellphone merger settlement

MADISON — Wisconsin and 10 other states have reached a deal with communications companies T-Mobile and Sprint to settle litigation challenging the companies’ merger, Attorney General Josh Kaul said Thursday.

The states — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia — along with the District of Columbia challenged the merger in federal court in New York in 2019. A judge last month ruled in the companies’ favor.

The settlement effectively ends the litigation. The deal calls for the companies to protect low-income subscribers and extend access to under-served communities.

The companies must make low-cost plans available for at least five years, extend T-Mobile’s rate plans for at least two years and offer no-cost broadband internet service every year for five years as well as a free mobile hotspot device to 10 million qualifying low-income households nationwide not currently connected to broadband. All T-Mobile and Sprint employees must be offered similar positions in the new company, known as New T-Mobile. The company must reimburse the states for the costs of their investigation and litigation up to $15 million.

A state law Wisconsin Republicans passed in 2018 requires Kaul, a Democrat, to get permission from the Legislature’s GOP-controlled budget committee to enter settlements. Kaul didn’t ask the panel to join this settlement, however. His spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, said state statutes consider the attorney general a district attorney in antitrust lawsuits. Since district attorneys don’t need the Legislature’s permission to settle cases Kaul didn’t in this instance, she said.

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