The (telephone) lines in the sand have been drawn.
Now that the Obama administration has officially moved to block the proposed $39 billion AT&T/T-Mobile merger, filing an antitrust complaint in federal court in Washington earlier today, prominent opponents and proponents of the deal are reacting to the news with equal intensity.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Mn.) is one such opponent. The former comedian sits on the Senate antitrust committee, which has been investigating the deal shortly after it was announced in March, though the committee has no final say one way or another on whether or not it can proceed. (That’s up to the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.)
Today, Franken’s office released a statement from the Senator applauding the Justice Department’s move.
“I have long believed that this merger would be a terrible deal for consumers, and I’m pleased the Department of Justice has taken the wise step of officially opposing it,” Franken said.
“I’ve heard from families across Minnesota that cell phone expenses are an ever-rising percentage of their bills each month, and this merger could make wireless bills increase by as much as 25 percent-a burden families certainly don’t need in this tough economy. This merger would also hurt competition and concentrate enormous power in the hands of just two companies-AT&T and Verizon-who would control more than 80 percent of the wireless market. I’m glad the Justice Department recognizes that this merger would hurt consumers and I hope that the court will agree and block it from moving forward.”
Last month, Franken came out decisively against the merger, saying it “would result in higher prices for consumers and potentially thousands of job losses,” contrary to AT&Ts claims it would create jobs.
But as steadfast as his position might be, Franken’s also faced opposition of his own from an important part of his constituency that supports the AT&T T-Mobile merger: communications workers unions.
Both the AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have latched onto a projection from the Economic Policy Institute the that the merger could create up to 96,000 jobs, and both have spent the past half-year lobbying to get Franken to change his mind, as detailed in a piece on MinnPost. They’ve clearly had little success.
The CWA in particular credits AT&T for allowing workers to “organize without interference.”
As Franken told MinnPost last week, “I do understand their position. If I were them, I would have the same opinion….[But] I represent all people in Minnesota. I believe in the labor movement but that doesn’t mean that I don’t consider everyone in Minnesota and this is such an important part of our economy.”
Today, the CWA issued its own statement condemning the Justice Department’s case, saying “The decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to seek to block the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile USA is simply wrong.In today’s sinking economy, where millions of Americans are looking for work, the DOJ has filed suit to block a merger that will create as many as 96,000 quality jobs.”
Franken, thought, it should be noted, isn’t the first lawmaker to publicly move against the deal.
In fact, the chairman of the Senate antitrust committee, Herb Kohl (D-Wi.), came out ahead of him in late July, publishing a lengthy letter to the Justice Department and the FCC, in which he wrote the merger “would likely cause substantial harm to competition and consumers, would be contrary to antitrust law and not in the public interest, and therefore should be blocked by your agencies.”
Today Kohl released a short follow-up statement to the news of the DOJ’s complaint, saying: “”We applaud the Justice Department for their action to protect consumers in a powerful and growing industry that reaches virtually every American. Preserving choices means ensuring competition, and competition ultimately benefits consumers.”