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McDowell Won't Vote on AT&T-BellSouth merger

December 19, 2006

In a move that surprised many on both sides of the aisle, Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said on Monday that he will continue to abstain from the FCC's vote on the BellSouth merger with AT&T.

McDowell was being heavily lobbied to cast the deciding vote. FCC Chair Kevin Martin, and the FCC's legal counsel Sam Feder gave him their opinion that McDowell's previous legal representation of merger-opponent Comptel did not represent an ethical barrier to him voting on this case.

After a period of internal deliberation, however, McDowell was unable to get himself to feel good about casting a vote in this important merger case.

"In all candor, however, I had expected a memorandum making a strong and clear case for my participation," McDowell said.  "Instead, the Authorization Memo is hesitant, does not acknowledge crucial facts and analyses, and concludes by framing this matter as an ethical coin-toss frozen in mid-air. The document does not provide me with confidence or comfort."

Interest group Public Knowledge, which had hoped McDowell wouldn't vote on this issue, sounded delighted with the news.

Terming the news "a happy holiday gift," Public Knowledge's Gigi Sohn wrote in the organization's blog that McDowell's decision "leaves the FCC deadlocked at 2-2 and essentially forces Chairman Martin to compromise with Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, who want more conditions on the merger, including enforceable net neutrality."

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