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AT&T/BellSouth Merger Remains In Limbo After Election

John Dingell, incoming Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, created a brief flurry of activity after the election when he suggested the FCC should look at the proposed merger carefully "even if it takes until next year."

W. David Gardner

November 10, 2006

2 Min Read

The proposed merger of AT&T and BellSouth remains in limbo even as this week's elections will likely give more power to Congressional Democrats on telecommunications issues.

Incoming Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee John Dingell created a brief flurry of activity after the election when he suggested the FCC should look at the proposed merger carefully "even if it takes until next year."

Although Dingell and his committee have no jurisdiction over the merger -- the FCC does -- the fact that his comments set off a minor controversy demonstrates the sensitivity of the merger, the approval of which has been repeatedly delayed. The FCC has been deadlocked -- two Republican commissioners favor the merger; the two Democratic Party members want some restrictions -- because the fifth member has recused himself from the proceedings.

"The FCC is totally deadlocked," said Art Brodsky, communications director of Public Knowledge. Brodsky said the FCC could take up the issue at its next agenda meeting in December. If the merger approval process spills over into next year, he noted, the Democratic Congressional members could have some small gain in influence, even though the FCC membership will remain the same and will still presumably be deadlocked.

Brodsky noted that Republican FCC commissioners have favored few conditions while the Democrats want to see some restrictions placed on the merger.

"This is the biggest telecommunications merger of all time," said Brodsky, who added that several issues including net neutrality, access rights, and overlapping AT&T and BellSouth service areas all deserve to be studied intensely by the FCC. The Department of Justice has approved the merger with no conditions.

Public Knowledge is an advocacy group that covers issues involving telecommunications and intellectual property.

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