FCC still stalled on AT&T/Bell South merger vote

by W. David Gardner, InformationWeek

The FCC agenda for next Wednesday's meeting has been announced and it doesn't include a vote on the AT&T-BellSouth merger.

However, Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters he is "anxious" to resolve the issue that has been stalemated for several weeks. FCC commissioners have deadlocked 2-2 along party lines with Republican commissioners favoring the merger and the two Democrats holding out for concessions from AT&T and BellSouth.

At the same time, consumer groups have mounted an increasingly vocal resistance to participation in the vote by Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, who had recused himself from voting on the issue because he had lobbied for a trade organization. An AT&T-BellSouth combine would create an $86 billion telecommunications company, the largest in the country.

Much of the resistance centers on the issue of net neutrality in which AT&T and other broadband providers seek to levy additional Internet charges according to bandwidth consumption. In recent weeks, AT&T has indicated it will make some concessions to reduce the impact of any net neutrality concerns.

The consumer groups, which assume that McDowell will side with his fellow Republican commissioners, have focused recently on his status.

In a letter to the FCC, the consumer groups stated: "Given that the combined entity will control half of the business and residential telephone lines in the nation, it is the public, not AT&T or BellSouth, which has the greatest stake in the merger's rejection or approval, with or without conditions. Regardless of how Commissioner McDowell votes on the merger, the public interest is jeopardized."

The consumer groups included the Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and U.S. PIRG.

article originally published at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=196700100.

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