FCC's McDowell Might Break Bell South/AT&T Merger Deadlock


FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell could get to break the 2-2 deadlock on the Bell South/AT&T merger after all.

According to an FCC source, Chairman Kevin Martin wrote a letter to the once and future leadership of the House and Senate Commerce Committees Friday updating them on the status of the FCC's review of the proposed merger.

In it, Martin said he had asked the general counsel's office to look into the circumstances under which McDowell could vote on the merger, which would give Martin a third Republican vote needed to break a two-two deadlock. McDowell has not been participating because his former employer, telecom association COMPTEL, has weighed in on the deal.

But he could vote anyway, according to ethics rules, if the GC determined that the government's interest in finishing the merger review outweighed those of requiring him to recuse himself.

McDowell said in a statement that he "look[ed] forward to receiving the General Counsel's analysis regarding my potential participation.”

Martin has tried several times to schedule a vote on the merger, which has already passed muster with Justice without any conditions. But with McDowell out of the picture, the commission's two Democrats have been pushing for conditions before they will sign off on the merger, particularly given Justice's decision not to attach any of its own.

The letter from Martin reportedly went to House and Senate Commerce Committee Chairmen Joe Barton and Ted Stevens, respectively, and House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, as well as their almost certain Democratic successors John Dingell, Daniel Inouye, and Ed Markey.

Barton and Upton have pushed the FCC to rule on the merger  while Dingell has advised it not to rush the decision.