Last updated: February 21, 2008 - 5:06am
MCDOWELL WILL NOT VOTE ON AT&T
[SOURCE: Associated Press, AUTHOR: John Dunbar]
AT&T's proposed buyout of BellSouth was thrown into doubt Monday when Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell, a former telecommunications industry lobbyist, said he will not be voting on the deal. His 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. Of a recent FCC General Counsel decision allowing McDowell to participate in the vote, McDowell said it 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's statement: "I had expected a memorandum making a strong and clear case for my participation. Instead, the Authorization 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. Nor does the December 11, 2006, letter responding to the questions posed by Representatives Dingell and Markey.15 I must emphasize that in no way should anyone interpret my observations as a criticism of Mr. Feder or his staff. As indicated in the Authorization Memo, reasonable minds can differ on this matter. Nonetheless, while I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, I was handed Swiss cheese." ... "In light of these factors, I find that I have no choice but to abide by the terms of my Ethics Agreement, heed the independent advice of OGE and my personal ethics counsel, and, ultimately to follow my own personal sense of ethics. Accordingly, I disqualify myself from this matter."
* FCC Chairman Martin:
"I appreciate Commissioner McDowell's thoughtful consideration and respect his decision to abstain. My goal in recent weeks has been to ensure that the Commission acted on the transaction. The Commission is not obligated to reach a particular outcome. However, the Commission 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."
* Commissioner Copps: "I respect Rob's decision. Finally we have clarity on who will be participating in this proceeding. That should give some juice to our ongoing discussions."
A Disappointed AT&T said the merger was in the public's interest and said it would continue to work for as speedy a resolution as possible. â€œOur merger is in the best interest of consumers, the economy and the Nation. A broad range of individuals and organizations Â including the Communications Workers of America Â have voiced their support for the merger and the pro-consumer conditions we have offered. State regulators, minority organizations, small business groups, educational and community groups and elected officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties have all recognized the concrete benefits that our merger brings to consumers and the public interest. We have sought the support for this merger from every member of the Commission since the very beginning and we will continue to do so. We will Â as we have always done Â do our part to bring the merger review to a bipartisan completion as quickly as possible.â€
"Now that this matter has been resolved, COMPTEL hopes that AT&T will finally engage in forthright negotiations on conditions to address the serious competitive harms raised by this merger. It is time to make a decision on this transaction. Whether it is approved or is denied is now largely a function of AT&T's willingness to address the legitimate public interest concerns raised by the largest telecom merger in history. We should know soon whether AT&T is serious about this merger or not. COMPTEL looks forward to working with the Commission to ensure that reasonable safeguards are adopted."
* Free Press Commends Commissioner McDowell for Staying Out of AT&T-BellSouth Vote
"We applaud Commissioner McDowell's decision to stay out of the AT&T-BellSouth merger. He was under intense pressure to rubber-stamp this deal but instead put ethics ahead of expediency. He has put the public interest first and set the table for a consumer-friendly resolution of this merger. Now the other commissioners can return to the business of making good public policy. We're optimistic that all sides will return to the table for good-faith negotiations on merger conditions that will protect consumers and maintain a neutral and open Internet."
* Media Access Project
"FCC Commissioner McDowell has courageously elevated professional responsibility over expedience in declining to participate in deliberations about the ATT/BellSouth merger. The test for such decisions is whether an action diminishes public confidence in the FCCâ€™s actions. There is no doubt that the legitimacy of all FCC decision making would have suffered had Commissioner McDowell yielded to pressure and agreed to vote on the merger."
* Public Knowledge
"Commissioner McDowell should be commended for his thoughtful deliberation over what anyone would consider a very difficult decision. In the end, he was correct to recuse himself from the AT&T takeover of BellSouth. This is too important a transaction to be clouded by the ethical questions that would have come up had the Commissioner taken part in the proceeding. It is now up to Chairman Martin to negotiate a balanced set of terms and conditions with Commissioners Copps and Adelstein that will protect the public interest and the freedom of the Internet. We have every hope he will do so."
* Dingell Gets His Man
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, AUTHOR: Editorial Staff]
[Commentary] The WSJ salutes FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell for taking "the high road" and acting "with some integrity." But in the same breath, the editorial makes bad guys of fellow FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein and Reps John Dingell (D-MI) and Ed Markey (D-MA) for suggesting that the course McDowell ultimately took is the most ethical. The paper concludes: "Mr. McDowell compared his action yesterday to taking his own pawn off the chess board on which this merger is being decided. In doing so, he voluntarily gave his political opponents better odds and has forgone an opportunity to pursue the pro-market policies he would clearly support if he weren't worried about political retribution. If his gesture of good will is not reciprocated, this pro-competitive merger will go down as the first business casualty of the new Democratic majority."
* Virtuous Neutrality
[SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, AUTHOR: Editorial Staff]
[Commentary] The LATimes approves of McDowell's decision mainly because it raises the potential that merger conditions are now more likely to include Network Neutrality. "This merger is less troubling than it would have been a decade ago, with Internet service providers, cable TV and wireless companies all offering alternatives to the local phone companies' copper lines. There is far less competition, however, in high-speed Internet service. In many parts of the country, consumers may have only one or no alternative to the DSL service to be offered by AT&T/BellSouth. That's why the merger should not be approved unless there is a guarantee that AT&T will offer a level playing field to websites and online services, at least until their customers have more choices for high-speed Internet connections."
* FCC's McDowell Won't Cast Vote on AT&T/Bell South Merger
"FCC Commissioner McDowell has courageously elevated professional responsibility over expedience in declining to participate in deliberations about the ATT/BellSouth merger," said Media Access Project's Andrew J. Schwartzman. MAP favors the sort of public interest conditions advocated by the commission's two Democrats. "The test for such decisions is whether an action diminishes public confidence in the FCCâ€™s actions," said Schwartzman. "There is no doubt that the legitimacy of all FCC decision making would have suffered had Commissioner McDowell yielded to pressure and agreed to vote on the merger."
* Commissioner won't break deadlock over AT&T-BellSouth deal
Rep John Dingell (D-MI) praised McDowell for "adhering to high ethical standards in this matter" and encouraged the remaining commissioners to bring the matter to a "fair and timely resolution." "This is too important a transaction to be clouded by the ethical questions that would have come up had the Commissioner taken part in the proceeding," Gigi Sohn, president of the group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.
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