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FCC chair seeks to move telecom merger forward

[JURIST] Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] Chairman Kevin Martin has asked the FCC general counsel to consider whether one commissioner with a potential conflict of interest may be allowed to consider a proposed $82.2 billion merger of BellSouth and AT&T [corporate websites]. The merger has been delayed three times [JURIST report] as the proposal has failed to gain approval from a majority of the five FCC commissioners. Republicans hold a 3-2 advantage, but voting has been deadlocked at 2-2 as Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, a former lobbyist, recused himself from voting due a conflict of interest. Martin took steps to break the stalemate Friday, notifying Congress of his petition to the FCC general counsel. Title 18, Section 208 (b) of the US Code [text] would allow the general counsel to reinstate McDowell if "the interest of the Government in the employee's participation outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the agency's programs and operations." AP has more.

The merger has already been approved [text] without reservation by the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division [official website] following an eight-month investigation that concluded that AT&T's proposed acquisition of BellSouth was not likely to "substantially reduce competition" in the US telecom market. In an October letter [PDF], the Democratic FCC commissioners said that serious questions remained about whether the merger would serve the public interest, especially against the backdrop of other forms of consolidation and concentration in the telecommunications industry.

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