At press time (noon), the FCC had yet to start its 11 a.m. meeting to consider the AT&T/BellSouth merger and opening an inquiry into network neutrality.
The two issues were moved from a Thursday meeting to a special Friday meeting to give the FCC more time to work on those controversial items.
An FCC spokesman couldn't gauge the status of the meeting, though a source said it will be delayed, though she was not sure until when. CNBC was reporting at about 11:15 that "the lobbyists haven't shown up yet" for the meeting, suggesting it might be a while.
One source was "increasingly pessimistic" about the prospects.For the last major telcom merger vote--the Adelphia split-up between Comcast and Time Warner-- the FCC delayed the meeting some three hours--including sending out for pizza--while the commissioners worked on an order that a majority could sign off on.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has recused himself from the vote due to the weighing-in on the issue of his former employer, COMPTEL, but he will be there whenever the meeting finally begins to vote on the network neutrality notice of inquiry.
That leaves the commission split 2-2, Republicans and Democrats, with negotiations continuing over what, if any conditions, to put on the merger to make it palatable to one of the two Democratic commissioners who are vocal critics of media consolidation.
Both were highly critical of the Justice Department's decision earlier this week not to impose any conditions on the AT&T/BellSouth merger. DOJ said it found no potential anticompetitive issues that rose to the level of a consent decree.
The DOJ standard is much like that for a district attorney deciding whether to prosecute a case. It only seeks modifications from the parties for at antitrust problems it thinks it could make a case for in court.
The FCC Democrats saw that as an abandonment of consumers and a way to avoid court review of the merger, which is triggered by any consent decree. DOJ defended its decision, saying it came after a lenghty invetigation--seven months--by experienced attorneys examining millions of pages of documents.