Friday, October 13, 2006

Sleeping with the Government: The AT&T/Bellsouth Deal

Sleeping with the Government: The AT&T/Bellsouth Deal

First of all, I have to say I'm surprised at the FCC for delaying a decision on AT&T. Maybe they're trying to draw concessions from the companies involved in an attempt to protect other companies who are "expressing" their "needs ($)? That couldn't be, could it? Oh wait, it certainly could be:

AT&T Inc. wants unanimous approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to acquire BellSouth Corp. and has offered some concessions to the agency, a top company lawyer told Reuters Thursday.

The FCC was scheduled to vote on the $80.6 billion acquisition Thursday. However, the vote was postponed until Friday while Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin tried to broker a deal on conditions sought by the two Democratic commissioners.

Martin had initially proposed approving the deal with no conditions, according to sources, but later offered one requiring the company to provide competitors access to at least 30 commercial buildings in BellSouth's territory so they can offer service.

"We have put a full set of conditions on the table that are reasonable and protect consumers," Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for regulatory affairs, told Reuters. "I want a deal with these guys; we want a 4-0 vote."

Quinn declined to elaborate on the conditions offered. He took the unusual step of pressing AT&T's case by attending an FCC commissioners' meeting that went forward with votes on other issues and did not address the merger.

Meanwhile, the DOJ offers us a view into why business and government should not be so damn entwined. I think it's awesome that AT&T is doing Government contracting these days, because it leads to things like this: the DoJ approved the AT&T/Bellsouth merger with absolutely no reservations on Thursday. You don’t suppose the whole deal with sharing information with the NSA (which is basically just an arm of the Administration, along with the DOJ, who also probably got some of that information) had anything to do with this, do you?

The Department of Justice (DoJ) on Wednesday approved the $67 billion merger of AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. Tomorrow, the FCC is expected to do the same. The DoJ did not impose any conditions on the combination, and it was not known whether the FCC would follow suit.

"The presence of other competitors, changing regulatory requirements and the emergence of new technologies in markets for residential local and long- distance service indicate that this transaction is not likely to harm consumer welfare," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnett said in a statement. "The proposed acquisition does not raise competition concerns with respect to Internet services markets or 'net neutrality.'"

An AT&T executive called the “unequivocal and unconditional approval” a sign of the competitive nature of the industry. “AT&T is focused on bringing more video choices and next-generation broadband services to as many consumers as possible and our merger with BellSouth will help deliver these benefits to more consumers, more quickly,” said AT&T General Counsel James D. Ellis.

The Competition Coalition, an alliance composed of various competitive carriers and pro-consumer organizations, decried the move.

“Unfortunately, by endorsing the largest telecommunications merger in history, the DoJ ignored the interests of consumers and the valid concerns raised by many experts and organizations that the reconstitution of Ma Bell will lead to higher prices, job cuts, violations of customer privacy and a widening of the digital divide,” said Andrew Schwartzman of the Competition Coalition. He also serves as president and CEO of the Media Access Project. “AT&T, with the help of a complicit government, is poised to control nearly half of the nation’s phone lines, and will also be the largest wireless and broadband Internet company in the country. … If the FCC joins DoJ in shirking its responsibilities, all Americans will be beholden to this massive beast.”

There's certainly nothing suspicious about that, especially when you consider this:
AT&T seeks change in NSA case

October 13, 2006

MONTPELIER – The phone company AT&T has proposed moving to California a federal lawsuit that seeks to block Vermont from investigating whether phone companies improperly provided phone records to the National Security Administration.

If successful, the request filed in Washington D.C. before a group of federal judges called the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation would add Vermont's case to a growing list of related litigation being heard in San Francisco.

All of the cases involve lawsuits over access to records of domestic phone calls. They allege that phone companies provided records of calls to the federal government without going through established procedures.

Vermont is involved because phone customers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont and the state's Public Service Department, which advocates for customers, have asked the Public Service Board to investigate whether two companies which operate in the state, AT&T and Verizon, made such records available or violated the state's consumer protection rules.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state to stop the inquiry, arguing that the investigation could threaten national security. Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the Vermont suit should be consolidated with at least 17 other cases in the federal court district of Northern California. The panel of judges hearing those lawsuits has recommended combining them, he said.
Nothing funny going on here at all, is there, AT&T?

Posted by crimnos @ 10:13 AM