House Democrats praised AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile in letters to the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department, a development that may nudge regulators towards approving the market-changing deal.
The lawmakers, led by Representative G.K. Butterfield (D., N.C.), encouraged the FCC and DoJ to “consider a number of important factors” when reviewing the deal. Their suggestions align with AT&T’s own arguments: that it would help bring 4G coverage to most of the country and expand rural coverage.
The deal would “create thousands of jobs, including many good paying union jobs with solid benefits, which will greatly contribute to our continuing economic recovery,” the letter said.
Regardless of the arguments, AT&T gave a total of nearly $500,000 to 66 signers of the letter in the last election cycle, according to the centre for Responsive Politics. The company, reportedly the single largest corporate donor to Congress over the last 20 years, also hired 90 lobbyists to press officials in Washington for support on the deal.
AT&T has been among Butterfield’s top campaign contributors since the 2006 election cycle.
In terms of political donations, AT&T has widely outspent Sprint, the deal’s most vocal opponent. According to campaign finance tracker OpenSecrets.com, Sprint made $2.5 million in campaign contributions last year, while AT&T made six times as much.
The proposed deal is controversial because it would concentrate 80 per cent of the U.S. market in the hands of two carriers: AT&T and Verizon. Critics say the merger would create a virtual duopoly, reducing competition and innovation and allowing prices to rise.
Sprint, Clearwire and several regional carriers have spoken out against the deal, along with some Congressional Democrats, Republicans and public interest groups.
Sprint has a vested interest in derailing the merger, since it would be knocked to a distant third place among national carriers, a position Sprint’s chief executive Dan Hesse hinted may force it to sell itself.
Proponents of the deal deny that the consolidation would destructively reduce competition, citing previous mergers that didn’t cripple the market. AT&T argues that it needs T-Mobile’s spectrum to improve its quality of service, handle increased data loads and roll out high-speed data in more rural areas.
Sprint, however, recently delivered a report to the FCC arguing that AT&T could more cheaply meet its spectrum needs by fully using what it has and deploying more efficient technologies.
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