Net Neut. Delays AT&T-BellSouth Vote Again

By Roy Mark

November 03, 2006

FCC remains deadlocked over attaching additional network neutrality conditions to deal.

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote on the AT&T-BellSouth merger is on hold again, marking the third time in as many weeks the agency has postponed a decision on the proposed $80 billion deal.

The commission pulled Friday vote from its agenda last night.

"While we have been engaged in this process for many weeks, regrettably we have not seen much progress toward resolution," AT&T said in a statement. "We remain confident that ultimately the merger will be approved."

The Department of Justice unconditionally approved the merger on Oct. 11.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and fellow Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate also support a no-strings-attached approval but they have been unable to convince Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

Martin lacks a decisive third vote from Republican Robert McDowell, who has recused himself from the vote because of his lobbying work prior to joining the FCC.

Copps and Adelstein are pushing for AT&T to add more network neutrality protections to the deal.

On Oct. 13, AT&T agreed to follow the FCC's network neutrality principles for 30 months after the official closing of the merger.

The concession closely follows similar conditions approved by the FCC in last year's AT&T-SBC and Verizon-MCI mergers.

The proposal is part of a long list of items AT&T offered, including standalone DSL for 30 months, free modems and discounted broadband prices.

"In order to obtain expeditious FCC approval, we have put on the table a number of proposals that directly benefit consumers -- such as a $10 per month broadband offering and broadband connectivity to rural and low-income areas," AT&T said.

The FCC's network neutrality principals call for broadband providers not to block legal Internet content and to allow consumers to run applications, services and devices of their choice.

The principals did not, however, address the issue of broadband carriers charging content, application and service providers fees based on bandwidth consumption.

Copps wants the FCC to add another principle stating broadband network providers must operate on a non-discriminatory basis to those who offer content, services and applications.

The merger would make AT&T the world's largest telecommunications company with 70 million landline customers across 22 states. Since AT&T co-owns Cingular Wireless with BellSouth, the deal would give AT&T full control of the nation's largest cellular company.



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