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FCC rules ex-lobbyist commissioner can vote on telecom merger

[JURIST] The Federal Communications Commission [official website; JURIST news archive] is set to vote on the proposed $82.2 billion AT&T -BellSouth merger [AT&T materials] after FCC general counsel Samuel Feder authorized Commissioner Robert McDowell to vote on a merger despite a possible conflict of interest. In an 8-page memorandum [PDF text] issued late last week, Feder found it important that only McDowell may break the 2-2 deadlock [JURIST report] between the remaining commissioners, as a commissioner "may not delegate his or her vote to anyone else." Feder's decision was governed by US Code Title 18, Section 208(b) [text], which permits an administrative employee to participate in decision-making activities despite a conflict of interest 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." McDowell, a former lobbyist for a trade group opposing the merger, recused himself from previous votes.

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. AP has more.

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