Vote on BellSouth Deal Omitted From Next FCC Meeting
By Molly Peterson
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Communications Commission
decided not to vote on AT&T Inc.'s $86 billion purchase of BellSouth
Corp. at its Dec. 20 meeting, lessening the prospects for approval
The agenda for the meeting, released late today, does include a vote
on rules making it easier for telephone companies to sell television
The FCC hasn't indicated when it will vote on the BellSouth sale. Two
Republican commissioners and two Democrats have been deadlocked for
months on what, if any, conditions to impose on the deal. They are
waiting for the fifth member, Republican Robert McDowell, to decide
whether to vote to break the tie.
McDowell sat out of the commission's negotiations because of his past
work as a lobbyist for rivals of AT&T and BellSouth. FCC General
Counsel Samuel Feder ruled on Dec. 8 that a vote by McDowell would
serve the government's interest. McDowell, who has been reviewing
Feder's opinion and related materials this week, hasn't decided
whether he will vote.
Before today's announcement, AT&T Chief Financial Officer Richard
Lindner said the company is still holding out for regulatory approval
of the transaction this month.
"The merger's going to be approved," Lindner said in a telephone
interview today. "I don't think it will be an extended approval process
from this point."
Federal rules don't require the FCC to vote in public, so the
commission could approve the deal later this month, in a secet
session, if at least three members agree to support it.
The panel's Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, are
demanding conditions such as price controls and airwave license sales,
moves resisted by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Deborah
Taylor Tate, both Republicans.
Next week, the commission plans to vote on rules that would make it
easier for companies including AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. to
sell television service.
Martin said last week he circulated a proposal to the other four
commissioners to require local franchise authorities to decide within
90 days on some phone-company applications to offer TV in competition
with cable providers.
FCC action may speed the companies' efforts to offer TV service and
counter cable companies such as Comcast Corp. that have lured phone
customers by packaging calling services with TV and high-speed
Internet access. The phone companies say lengthy negotiations with
hundreds of local agencies have hindered their attempts to offer TV
service and raised costs.
Martin's plan would require local authorities to rule within 90 days
on video-franchise applications from companies that already have a
community's rights-of-way, such as a phone carrier with existing lines
in the region, the chairman told reporters after giving a speech
The proposal would also limit the fees local agencies can require new
TV providers to pay as part of franchise deals, Martin said. The FCC
also may curb local regulators' ability to impose ``build-out'' rules,
which typically require a company to eventually offer service to all
households in that region.
To contact the reporter on this story: Molly Peterson in Washington at
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