News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Concessions made AT&T-BellSouth merger acceptable

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved AT&T's $86 billion buyout of BellSouth Corp. on Friday, but not until two Democratic commissioners forced concessions from the nation's largest provider of telephone, wireless and broadband Internet services.

Consumers should benefit from the concessions.

"We got substantial concessions that are going to mitigate a lot of the harms that would otherwise have resulted from this merger," said FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

Mr. Adelstein and Michael Copps, the minority Democrats on the commission, gained significant leverage after Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, a former lobbyist for Comptel — a trade group that opposed the merger — removed himself from voting. The other two Republican commissioners, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Deborah Taylor, supported the merger without AT&T's concessions. The Justice Department approved the merger in October without imposing restrictions or conditions.

Among the promises AT&T made were:

n Offer stand-alone digital subscriber line Internet service for $19.95 per month for 30 months without requiring customers to sign up for other services;

n Bring 3,000 jobs BellSouth had sent overseas back to the United States by the end of 2008, and place at least 200 of those jobs in New Orleans;

n Refuse preferential treatment to any content provider's traffic over its high-speed network. Consumer advocates and some Web sites had feared AT&T would sell better-quality transmission service to Internet companies that paid higher rates.

After the merger, AT&T will operate 68.7 million local phone lines stretching coast to coast across the South and up though the Midwest. It will also have complete control over Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest wireless provider, and is looking to rollout television service to compete with cable operators.

Such a communications giant comes awfully close to a monopoly. The FCC did consumers a service by forcing AT&T to accept the negotiated concessions.

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