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AT&T/BellSouth Still on FCC Agenda

As of Friday, the FCC still planned to vote on the AT&T/BellSouth merger at a Nov. 3 meeting, but like the New England weather, that could easily change.

According to an agenda for the meeting released Friday, "the Commission will consider a Memorandum Opinion and Order regarding the transfer of control application of AT&T and BellSouth." Martin has been working hard to get an order that at least one of the Democrats will sign off on, which means an order with some conditions on the merger.

The special Nov. 3 meeting was called after the commission failed to consider the merger at an Oct. 12 meeting for which a vote had been scheduled, then again at a hastily called special meeting the next day on what proved an unlucky Friday the 13th for fans of the merger. The sticky wicket is what conditions to put on the AT&T merger. There will now most certainly be some. Even AT&T has conceded that.

The Justice Department did not require any modifications to the merger and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to get on with a vote. AT&T has offered to voluntarily adopt conditions, but whether or not FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein can be brought on board is still problematic. They were highly critical of Justice's decision not to put on any conditions.

Martin has a Republican majority, but Commissioner Robert McDowell has recused himself because his former employer, telco lobby COMPTEL, has weighed in with concerns about the merger.

That leaves two Democrats and two Republicans, which is how Martin spent the first year-plus of his tenure. That lack of a majority likely helped delay the Adelphia vote and the launch of the media ownership reg review.

The AT&T item can be pulled anytime between now and the start of the meeting. While the FCC's self-imposed 180-day shot clock for considering the merger has expired, it is only a guideline. The Adelphia merger review, for example, topped 400 days. The AT&T shot clock only expired Oct. 20.

FYI: The FCC at the meeting will also consider a notice of proposed rulemaking on the effect of communications towers on migratory birds and whether it should "adopt certain measures to mitigate bird collisions."