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FCC Commissioner's Ethics Stand Makes Things Tougher For AT&T

from the conflicting-interests dept

We pointed out yesterday that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin would only be able to deliver telcos half of their Christmas present this week, since the deadlock on the AT&T-BellSouth merger remains unbroken. There are five FCC commissioners: three Republicans, including Martin, and two Democrats. One of the Republicans, Robert McDowell, has thus far refused to vote on the issue because of his past work for a group that lobbied on behalf of small telephone companies — living up to a pledge to recuse himself from votes where there’s a conflict of interest. A few weeks ago, the FCC’s general counsel, cleared McDowell to vote, saying it wouldn’t be unethical. But that rather wishy-washy memo wasn’t good enough for McDowell, who now says he still won’t vote on the merger. With refreshing candor, he said of the general counsel’s ruling: “While I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, I was handed Swiss cheese,” explaining in a statement that even though he’d been cleared to vote by the FCC lawyer, he still had other ethical questions and responsibilities the counsel apparently failed to consider. There are a few interesting angles here, beyond the obvious one of an apparently ethical politician. It appears that FCC Chairman Martin was pushing for McDowell to vote with the expectation that he’d follow party lines and approve the merger with minimal conditions — but would that have really been the case? The conflict of interest was because McDowell lobbied for small telcos, and the group he used to head is opposed to the AT&T-BellSouth merger. In addition, in his confirmation hearings, he made the right noises about being an advocate of consumers and competition (though, of course, if he was nominated with Martin’s blessing, you have to wonder about his true colors). It seems like the easiest path here, were McDowell in favor of the merger, to say ethical questions be damned, and go ahead and vote to approve with his fellow Republicans. However, by refusing to get involved, it appears that he’s shifted the balance of power back towards the Democratic commissioners and put more pressure on the companies to make deeper concessions. The deal will still eventually get approved, the question is just over what conditions will be attached, and how long it will take — which could increase speculation that AT&T might give up on the deal.

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Comments on “FCC Commissioner's Ethics Stand Makes Things Tougher For AT&T”

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Anonymous Coward says:

At&t merger

I don’t support the merger, just straight out.
I have my own personal issues with AT&T, and would rather see them put out of business.

so, the more stress on it, the better

i just hope sumbody will make up there minds, so i can make up my mind to keep my providor or not, because i don’t want the words AT&T anywere on my bill.

another says:

AT&T will not just give up on SBC, face it, it will happen sooner or later.

Interesting, but logic dictates McDowell would vote no. Since he was opposed to AT&T prior to joining the FCC, a vote yes would obviously shown that even though he formerly a rival to AT&T, he was voting for good. Since he won’t vote, you have to assume his vote would have been no, thus calling his objectivity into question.

Sometimes you just can’t get people to vote the party line. Thats really a great thing.

grapeshot says:

I Am Confused

I remember that in the very early 80’s AT&T was originally broken up so that the consumers would be better served by competition that would be created by many, smaller telcos. Indeed, this is what gave rise to Sprint, WorldCom, SBC, Verizon, etc., and a plethora of baby bells. To be sure, although this was a confusing time for the average consumer, who was now bombarded with ads for all the telcos competing for their $$ (not to mention being slammed right and left), the price of making phone calls did go down. As an exercise, it seems that increasing competition was indeed good for the consumer.

Now it seems that the telco industry (or at least, the land-line portion of it) has been allowed to merge and re-merge until we are virtually back to the old days of a single provider that holds a monopoly. Only this time, less subject to governmental regulation. And this time it is poised to happen just as they’re also threatening to limit access to content on the internet.

I remain unconvinced that the FCC, who’s leadership is appointed by the current administration, is at all concerned with what’s best for the consumer. It seems like ALL these agencies, FEC, SEC, FCC, etc., are more concerned with kowtowing to corporate interests. Given the sheer incompetence of this administration in dealing with national and international matters, and the level of corruption and/or incompetence within the ranks of their appointees, I am also not convinced that the current FCC is able to properly sort through issues of just how different technologies compete and don’t compete with each other.

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