Did Courtney phone this one in?

I don't know enough about the proposed $39 billion merger between AT&T and T-Mobile to say whether it's good for the country.

My natural skepticism, though, would suggest it can't be too good for consumers to create two giants in the wireless industry. And aren't most mergers about cutting jobs through consolidation?

My instincts are that it's not so good, a suspicion confirmed by the reaction of quite a few national consumer groups that have written in opposition to the merger.

My sense, too, would be that U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney of eastern Connecticut's 2nd District might also not know enough about the proposed merger to decide if it's good for the country.

But evidently Rep. Courtney, who has received more than $11,000 in political contributions from AT&T during his career, knew enough to sign a letter last month, along with 75 other Democratic members of Congress, in general support of the merger.

"The pending AT&T merger proposal pledges to help realize that vision (for nationwide, next generation broadband) and for this reason, we urge you to give important consideration to these and other prospective benefits during your comprehensive review," Courtney and the other Democrats wrote.

The letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski stopped short of actually endorsing the merger.

But presumably it delivered some of the $500,000 in political firepower AT&T paid for in contributions to 71 of the 76 members of Congress who signed the letter.

When I called Courtney's office to ask about his signing the letter, I said I was surprised by his support, given his history of protecting consumers.

His office responded by referring me to a policy paper on the merger written by the Progressive Policy Institute.

Courtney's office also issued this statement from the congressman:

"I have heard directly from eastern Connecticut workers and have reviewed independent analysis that AT&T's post merger investment in wireless infrastructure will have a positive impact on domestic jobs and Connecticut's economy.

"For this reason, I joined three of my Connecticut House colleagues in urging a thorough review of the proposed merger, including consumer prices, competition and economic impact."

I still can't shake the feeling that this is what $11,000 would sound like if it could talk.

Courtney's three Connecticut colleagues who also signed, by the way, also had career totals of more than $11,000 in contributions from AT&T. They are Rosa DeLauro of the 3rd District, John B. Larson of the 1st District and Christopher S. Murphy of the 5th District.

AT&T's generous contributions to nonprofits like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Education Association, which threw support to the merger, have also raised some eyebrows and hackles.

The president of the national Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD) had to resign after a firestorm of protest erupted in response to his signing a letter in support of the AT&T merger.

Prominent consumer groups that have thrown down red flags at the prospect of the merger say it will make AT&T and Verizon giant toll takers on the wireless highway with others unable to compete.

If the merger goes through, Verizon and AT&T would control 80 percent of the mobile market in America. That lack of competition would increase prices and stifle competition and innovation, the consumerists argue.

I am sorry that Rep. Courtney did not seem to give their arguments more consideration.

In light of the contributions he has accepted, he could have at least erred more on the side of neutrality.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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