WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Federal Communications Commission Democrats Friday asked the agency to delay an approval vote for AT&T's US$80.14 billion buyout of BellSouth.
The request came in a letter from FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the two Democrats at the agency. The FCC has been negotiating since midweek to reach a compromise on the giant telecommunications merger.
A meeting scheduled for Friday morning has yet to start. Although agency officials have yet to call off the meeting, the demands in the letter could result in delayed consideration of the merger until at least November.
"Given the limited analysis from our leading antitrust authorities, it is all the more imperative that we now employ an open process to fully involve all affected parties," the two commissioners said in the letter.
The FCC already delayed a planned vote for Thursday after it became apparent the agency was deadlocked on the giant telecommunications marriage.
Two of the FCC's Republicans supported the merger as proposed by the companies. But the FCC's two Democratic commissioners wanted, among other demands, to impose conditions on the newly-formed company's broadband Internet operations aimed at ensuring it treats all Internet traffic equally. The FCC's fifth member, Republican Robert McDowell, is expected to recuse himself from the vote due to his past telecommunications lobbying work.
The Justice Department's antitrust division approved the merger on Wednesday after concluding the deal won't substantially harm competition across a broad swath of telecommunications services.
The DOJ announcement prompted howls of protest from some consumer groups and members of Congress. Both want the FCC to more closely scrutinize the merger and require the companies to do more to ensure the deal doesn't have an anticompetitive impact.
The AT&T and BellSouth merger was announced in March at a value of $67 billion. Current market prices put the value of the transaction at around $80 billion. The deal would rejoin AT&T with the only remaining independent Baby Bell out of the seven regional phone companies created when the government broke up Ma Bell in 1984. AT&T also would have sole control of Cingular Wireless, the No. 1 wireless provider.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been pushing for a final vote on the merger within a six-month time frame. Efforts by Martin to break the gridlock have included requiring the companies to sell some business operations in big office buildings and starting an FCC inquiry into broadband industry practices.
Democrats on the commission and in Congress have continued to press for additional scrutiny of the deal. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., on Thursday sent a letter to the FCC requesting the agency not follow the Justice Department's lead by not imposing restrictions on the deal.
Comptel, a telecommunications industry group opposed to blanket approval of the merger, said it is hopeful the FCC will place conditions on the merger. "We are hopeful that the commission takes the necessary steps to preserve competition and protect consumers from the re-monopolization of the communications industry," said Comptel President Earl Comstock.
-By Mark H. Anderson, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9254; email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires"
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