FCC Balks at AT&T/BellSouth Merger Vote
Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps issued statements Friday asking that the vote be postponed, and for the issue to be re-opened to public comment, Light Reading has learned. (See BellSouth Merger Q&A.)
Another commissioner, Commissioner Robert McDowell, has asked that he be recused from the vote because he was once a member of the CLEC association Incompas . An FCC spokesman says McDowell still "considers himself recused" today.
The 11:30 p.m. EST meeting in which the vote was to take place had not yet begun at 1:00 p.m. EST Friday.
A source inside the Commission said he would be "very surprised" if the vote took place Friday. He noted that he wasn't privy to conversations going on now among the chairman and the commissioners.
Specifically, Copps and Adelstein ask that the Commission take fresh proposals from AT&T and BellSouth, and to open a new round of public comment on the matter. (See CU, CFA Protest AT&T/BellSouth.)
"Such an approach is even more important because the Department of Justice approved this combination with very little substantive analysis and only a day before we were scheduled to vote, making our task much harder," the letter reads.
The commissioners are concerned that the current structure of the AT&T/BellSouth merger might create an environment of anti-trust in the telecom market. (See Is an SBC/BellSouth Merger Next?.)
"Given the limited analysis from our leading anti-trust authorities, it is now imperative that we employ an open process to involve all affected parties, including the applicants, in order to get the public and expert view that is otherwise lacking," the letter reads.
The delay on the vote would be the second in two days. The FCC late Wednesday postponed the vote, and a related network neutrality item, until today. This morning's letter comes one day after the Commission's announcement Thursday that it would prepare a new study on the current state of video competition in the U.S. The FCC wants fresh data on the effect IPTV and broadband video will have on existing video pricing.
That issue has everything to do with the merger, according to AT&T. AT&T says BellSouth does not have the resources by itself to roll out video services that would keep cable prices in check. Only with the merger, AT&T says, can competitive video be offered within Bellsouth's footprint.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading