FCC’s Martin Takes Heat Over AT&T-BellSouth Action

Dec 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin’s bid to get Commissioner Robert McDowell to participate in a deadlocked FCC decision on an AT&T/BellSouth merger is angering congressional Democrats.

Democrats, who took control of Congress in the November election, are livid that Mr. Martin asked FCC General Counsel Sam Feder to approve Mr. McDowell’s participation in discussions of the merger and got Mr. Feder’s blessing.

Mr. McDowell, a former telecommunications lobbyist, had recused himself from considering the deal, leading to a deadlock as two Democratic commissioners demanded changes to the merger while two Republicans favored the deal.

Mr. McDowell, a Republican, has yet to say whether he will participate in considering the merger.

In a series of letters and statements, Democrats, led by incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Ed Markey, head of the committee’s telecommunications panel, questioned Mr. Martin’s action and demanded Mr. Feder explain his approval.

“These matters raise serious questions of both ethics and propriety,” Rep. Dingell said last week.

Meanwhile, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, called waiving government ethics rules “drastic action” and said he was “puzzled” and “disturbed” that the FCC that would rush to act on the largest telecommunications merger in the nation’s history. He said the plan would “short-circuit the negotiations of meaningful conditions” to the merger.

Republicans have urged the FCC to act quickly.

“The Commission’s consideration of company-specific transactions should not be used to manipulate the Commission’s rulemaking process,” wrote current House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and telecom panel Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “The Commission’s responsibility is to regulate, not frustrate, matters within its jurisdiction.”