U.S. News

FCC Commissioner Won't Vote on AT&T Deal

By JOHN DUNBAR |Associated Press Writer

AT&T's proposed buyout of BellSouth was thrown into doubt Monday when Robert McDowell, a member of the Federal Communications Commission and a former telecommunications industry lobbyist, said he will not be voting on the deal.

McDowell's personal disqualification means the nation's largest telecommunications merger is stuck at a presumed 2-2 deadlock. He said he hoped his fellow commissioners "will come back to the negotiating table in good faith to offer meaningful concessions."

The acquisition has been hung up because the two Democrats on the commission, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, have insisted that AT&T agree to conditions, including some allowances on the issue of network neutrality.

FCC General Counsel Samuel Feder recently submitted a letter clearing McDowell to participate, but the commissioner made it clear the letter did not make him feel comfortable enough to do so.

McDowell said Feder's memo is "hesitant, does not acknowledge crucial facts and analyses, and concludes by framing this matter as an ethical coin-toss, frozen in mid-air. The document does not provide me with confidence or comfort."

McDowell addressed reporters in the FCC's general meeting room. He did not take questions afterward.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin released a statement following McDowell's announcement, saying he respected McDowell's decision.

He also said that while the "commission is not obligated to reach a particular outcome" it is "responsible for making a determination in a timely fashion. With Commissioner McDowell having made his decision, I will continue to try to work with my colleagues to bring our consideration of this merger to conclusion."

AT&T  also released a statement after the announcement, saying the company "will -- as we have always done -- do our part to bring the merger review to a bipartisan completion as quickly as possible."

The $84 billion deal would be the largest telecommunications merger in U.S. history.

McDowell is a former lobbyist for a trade group that opposes the merger.

The Antitrust Division of the Justice Department cleared the deal on Oct. 11, declaring there were no competitive concerns and opting not to require the combined company to divest assets or make any other concessions.

The proposed takeover has been approved by regulators in 18 states, leaving the FCC as the final hurdle.