The Federal Communications Commission could remain deadlocked on the pending $84 billion merger of AT&T (formerly known as SBC) and BellSouth, as a new Republican commissioner decides whether or not to vote. The five-member FCC has been stuck with a two-to-two tie vote for months over conditions on the deal as newbie Robert McDowell sat out of deliberations because of conflict-of-interest concerns. Before joining the FCC, McDowell lobbied on behalf of a trade group that represents smaller phone companies, and opposed the merger.
McDowell was approved to vote by the FCC’s general counsel, but McDowell said he may decline to vote on the deal. In a statement, he "strongly" urged his colleagues to "resolve their differences" while he reviews the general counsel's decision. "In addition, I look forward to receiving a copy of (general counsel) Mr. Feder's response to Congressman John Dingell's letter of December 5." In that letter, Dingell, the Democratic incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, asked 15 pointed questions about the suitability of McDowell's involvement in the merger vote.
In a memo, FCC general counsel Sam Feder argued that the government's interest in seeing the merger deliberations move forward outweighed concerns about potential conflicts of interest. He noted that both AT&T and BellSouth had agreed to McDowell's participation and that he might be "the only person available to break the impasse."
There's been little question whether the FCC will approve the deal, just about what conditions would be required, such as antidiscrimination rules for the Internet and price controls on high-volume data lines. (info from The Wall Street Journal)