AT&T-BellSouth Merger Still Stalemated

With the FCC deadlocked 2-2 on the proposed acquisition, Martin is seeking to "unrecuse" commissioner Robert McDowell, who had disqualified himself from the case because he had been an industry lobbyist.

The two Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, protested Martin's move late Friday. Copps said the move would "short-circuit discussions and very likely shortchange consumers," while Adelstein complained that the move could trim dialogue on competition and impact affordable broadband services.

A consumer group, Public Knowledge, also protested Martin's action to free McDowell from voting on the issue.

"Members of Congress should make clear that having commissioner McDowell participate in the AT&T-BellSouth merger at this point would deeply compromise the integrity of the commission," Gigi B. Sohn, Public Knowledge's president, said in a statement.

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The Associated Press reported that Martin had written a letter to the FCC's general counsel seeking to break the "impasse" over approval of the acquisition. Martin wrote: "Despite working for months to reach consensus with my colleagues, three attempts over the past six weeks to have this item considered at an open meeting, and countess hours of internal deliberations, the commission has reached an impasse."

The Democratic commissioners have been seeking more concessions from AT&T in return for approving the merger, which would create the country's largest telecommunications service company, with an estimated $117 billion in annual revenue.