The laugh lines were flying during Thursday's hearing in Washington regarding No. 2 U.S. mobile carrier AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of No. 4 T-Mobile USA, though not all of them were intentionally funny.
As IDG News Service reports, the chief executives were back before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee's competition subcommittee to answer questions about the deal.
(Also see: The 'most brazen merger proposal in history'?)
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., constructed a perfect set-up when he said he saw "no redeeming reason for this merger to go through," arguing that it could result in layoffs for employees of the two companies and higher prices for mobile phone subscribers.
Then, as Grant Gross writes, Conyers delivered his punch line:
"Normally, at antitrust hearings, we get the promises that there won't be losses of jobs and they won't raise the rates. The thing I like about these witnesses is, they don't even promise that. I thank you for your evasiveness on this issue."
Conyers was speaking to AT&T chairman and chief executive Randall Stephenson and Rene Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile USA.
But compared to Stephenson, Conyers is a comedy amateur. Explaining that the deal would allow AT&T to accelerate rollout of its mobile broadband service (while conveniently omitting the fact that it also would leave just two major players in the sector, the other one being Verizon, with No. 3 Sprint Nextel left to suck wind), Stephenson solemnly declared in a deadpan that would have made Steven Wright proud:
"This transaction is about consumers."
That guy needs an agent.
Deutsche Telekom's top exec got in his own laugh line, shrewdly mixing something true with something absurd to produce a potent comedy mix!
Without the merger, T-Mobile doesn't have a clear path to new spectrum needed to offer next-generation LTE service, Obermann told lawmakers. The sale to AT&T is the "best outcome" both for Deutsche Telekom and for U.S. customers, he said.
The best outcome! For everyone! Please remember to tip your waitresses generously!
Perhaps the funniest line of the hearing, though, came from the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who applied to the topic the intellectual rigor that made his father a world-famous spelling champion.
Representative Ben Quayle, an Arizona Republican, suggested new mobile competitors could arise to compete with AT&T and Verizon if the two large carriers raise prices.
See? Higher mobile prices would benefit consumers in the long run! Less is more, war is peace, love is hate, potato, potatoe, it's all good!
The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice are reviewing the proposed merger, a process that could stretch through the summer.
While Congress can hold hearings, it is not part of the approval process. However, the House subcommittee is expected to schedule further hearings at Washington area comedy clubs.