AT&T, Bell South merger vote delayed

Lisa Napoli Oct 12, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The Federal Communications Commission took the day off. Commissioners were supposed to vote today on the proposed AT&T merger with Bell South. The deal would reunite a couple of key parts of the old Ma Bell. The decision was put off ’till tomorrow without explanation. But Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli reports those who follow the telecommunications industry think they know why.

LISA NAPOLI: After the Justice Department green-lit the $78 billion merger on Wednesday and sent it along for FCC approval, opponents started burning up the bits. They sent out action-alert e-mails that said things like this:

BEN SCOTT:“The Department of Justice has just abdicated its public interest responsibilities.”

That’s Ben Scott of the group Free Press. He asked his members to petition the FCC against the creation of a giant telecom superpower.

SCOTT:“There’s always the standard concerns of less competition and higher prices, but on the bigger picture what we’re talking about here is the future of the Internet.”

That’s because a merged AT&T and Bell South would have vast control over not just phone services but over wireless and Internet access, too. That also troubles the two Democratic FCC commissioners, who’ve spoken out against the deal. With two Republicans for it, and the third recusing himself from the vote because of his previous work, getting buy-in from at least one of those Democrats is key.So says Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project.

ANDREW SCHWARTZMAN:“The fact that there is a 2-to-2 split on this particular vote gives the two Democrats tremendous leverage to extract concessions in the form of conditions which have been attached in other mergers.”

Both sides agree that getting to that point might take longer than a day’s worth of negotiations.

Which is why it might be a bit longer before Ma Bell becomes whole again.

In New York, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

RYSSDAL: Nobody really doubts the FCC’s going to give the thumbs up. AT&T and Bell South were both up almost 2 percent today.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.