- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006


AT&T; Inc. has offered a new set of concessions that are expected to satisfy the two Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission and lead to approval of the company’s $85 billion buyout of BellSouth Corp.

The full commission could give its approval as soon as today.

AT&T; filed a letter of commitment with the agency last night that adds several conditions to the deal, including a promise to observe “network neutrality” principles, an offer of affordable stand-alone digital subscriber line service and divestment of some wireless spectrum.

Final approval still requires a vote of the commissioners, which can happen at any time via computer. The proposed deal is the largest telecommunications merger in U.S. history.

AT&T; offered the concessions after a little more than a week of marathon negotiations with lawyers who work for the two Democrats on the commission, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, documents show.

Consumer advocates are praising the compromise. Gene Kimmelman, vice president of federal and international affairs for Consumers Union, who has worked closely with the Democrats, said AT&T;’s new concessions are “an enormous improvement from where we were a month ago.”

Mr. Adelstein and Mr. Copps and representatives of AT&T; were not available for comment yesterday evening.

The agreement came together 10 days after Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, announced that he would not vote on the deal, despite being authorized to do so by the FCC’s general counsel. Mr. McDowell previously worked as a telecommunications lobbyist.

Pressure was added by Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who, in a veiled warning to Democrats, said negotiations should proceed “fairly and openly and in a way that avoids imposing burdens that have nothing to do with the transaction.”

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