Facebook, tech giants back AT&T merger

Facebook has joined Microsoft and other tech giants in endorsing AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile, a development that could help vanquish concerns that the wireless behemoth could use its market power to push around the tech industry. 

A group of tech companies sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski Monday expressing their support for the merger. Signees included Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Oracle, Avaya, Brocade, Research in Motion and Qualcomm. 

AT&T's support from Silicon Valley was broadened by additional letters from 10 venture capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Partners. 

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The tech companies tied their support to consumer demand for wireless broadband. They need customers to have access to high-capacity networks if their own services are to continue flourishing. 

"Consumer demand for wireless broadband is dramatically increasing and our wireless networks are struggling to keep pace with the demand," the letter said. 

The companies cited a desire for the nation to continue leading in wireless technology, which they said is important to U.S. competitiveness.

"The challenge of keeping pace with consumer demand and continuing to lead globally in wireless broadband services and products requires that we tackle the issue on multiple fronts," the letter said. 

The companies noted as an important benefit AT&T's promise to make next-generation wireless broadband available to 97 percent of the population. "The FCC must seriously weigh the benefits of this merger and approve it," it said. 

The endorsement from a deep bench of tech giants opens the door for AT&T to argue it has Silicon Valley support as lawmakers in both parties and a vocal set of critics express concern that the merger could negatively affect handset and application companies along with other tech interests. 

Several of the most influential tech companies remain silent, including Google, Apple and Amazon. The letter also lacked buy-in from small start-ups, who are notoriously poor at getting organized enough to speak up in Washington, but the VC entreaties could be persuasive as a plea representing their interests. 

AT&T government affairs officials met with tech companies on their home turf last month to court their endorsement and allay concerns about the deal. 

Other key merger supporters include labor unions, such as the Communications Workers of America. CWA will gain members if the merger is approved because AT&T has a unionized workforce. 

The third-largest wireless carrier, Sprint, is contesting the deal as anti-competitive along with rural and regional carriers and public-interest groups who fear prices will rise if the deal is approved, a notion AT&T disputes. 

The FCC and the Justice Department are examining the deal in a review that could extend well into next year.

UPDATE 2:12 p.m.: AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson issued a statement about the development:

"We’re pleased to have such strong support from Silicon Valley for our merger. These are among the most innovative companies and investors in America, and they recognize the link between our merger with T-Mobile and continued innovation in mobile broadband."