Jumping into the fray on one of the most controversial issues facing federal anti-trust regulators this year, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger joined 75 other congressional Democrats in a high profile letter touting the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.

The letter, which lawmakers sent to the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission late last week, does not specifically endorse the $39 billion deal, but instead urges regulators to consider AT&T's promise to build a wireless broadband network that would cover much of the nation.

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"Such a commitment will require billions of dollars in private investment capital and create thousands of jobs, including many good paying union jobs with solid benefits, which will greatly contribute to our continuing economic recovery," the letter reads.

Proponents say the wireless network will benefit areas often unable to access internet service, such as rural areas. Opponents say the merger could stifle competition and increase costs for that access. They also say AT&T is prepared to build the wireless network regardless of whether the government approves the merger.

"There are still many Marylanders in rural areas and underserved communities without broadband access, including parts of Baltimore city," Ruppersberger said in a statement. "With proper oversight, the industry will remain competitive, providing the best technology at the lowest price for consumers."

Ruppersberger was the only Maryland lawmaker to sign the letter.

Both the letter and the underlying issue have proven controversial. A host of consumer groups — including Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports — have criticized the deal. The public interest group Free Press argued recently that AT&T's attempt to tie the merger to the promise of the broadband network is dubious.

"Members of Congress should be more careful about signing any letter that AT&T puts in front of them," the group's research director S. Derek Turner said in a statement. "This letter is riddled with misleading and factually inaccurate statements that contradict what the company is telling investors and regulators."

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