The Future Of The Internet May Be Decided Before Christmas - InformationWeek

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Commentary
12/12/2006
01:47 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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The Future Of The Internet May Be Decided Before Christmas

The merger of BellSouth and AT&T requires the approval of the Federal Communications Commission. Up until Election Day this looked like a mere formality. But an unexpected attack of honesty on the part of a commissioner and the Democratic Congressional victories could actually torpedo the deal. Look for the FCC to do everything it can to force a decision that advances AT&T Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr.'s campaign to take ownership of the Internet before Congress changes hands.

The merger of BellSouth and AT&T requires the approval of the Federal Communications Commission. Up until Election Day this looked like a mere formality. But an unexpected attack of honesty on the part of a commissioner and the Democratic Congressional victories could actually torpedo the deal. Look for the FCC to do everything it can to force a decision that advances AT&T Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr.'s campaign to take ownership of the Internet before Congress changes hands.The problem is that the commission has been deadlocked, two Democrats to two Republicans, on the approval, with one Republican commissioner, Robert McDowell, abstaining. McDowell recused himself from the decision because he once worked as a lobbyist for a telecommunications industry association opposed to the deal, and he is concerned about his conflict-of-interest culpability.

McDowell put FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in a tight spot, unable to deliver the decision that Whitacre surely expects as his due. The National Journal's Telecom Update has a nice review of the resulting shenanigans.

Last week the FCC's Office of General Counsel "authorized" McDowell to participate in the AT&T-BellSouth decision. Congressional Democrats John D. Dingell, (D-Mich.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who oppose the merger, threw down the gauntlet with Martin, writing in a lengthy letter, "This matter can and should be concluded in a timely fashion without compromising the ethical standards of the independent agency or the individual commissioners involved." Markey is slated to become chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee on Jan. 3. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, incoming Senate Commerce chairman, also wrote a critical letter to Martin.

Whitacre, remember, is the leading figure in the gang of telcos and cable companies that wants Congress to criminalize municipal WiFi nets and is pressing to blackmail Web service providers like Google and Yahoo for the right to send Web traffic across the gang's networks to Internet users.

The merger of AT&T and BellSouth is not necessary for any reason that benefits the citizens of this country whose interests the Federal Communications Commission is supposed to protect. The FCC's rush to hand Whitacre what he wants before the incoming Congress can do more to prevent it is political hackery, pure and simple, and inothing more than you'd expect from the agency that since the Reagan administration has actively sought to bolster anti-competitive media concentration and release broadcasters, in particular, from their responsibilities to the public -- actions that resulted in 2003 in the press watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranking the United States only 17th in the world in the freedom of its media. Martin's goal is clearly to keep it that way.

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