DOJ Approves AT&T-BellSouth Merger

The U.S. Justice Department Wednesday approved AT&T’s $67 billion merger with BellSouth following an antitrust review that found that the transaction would not harm competition in the various markets the combined company will serve.

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General and Antitrust Division chief Thomas Barnett said he declined to seek conditions because the merger would “not likely harm consumer welfare.”

Barnett added, "The proposed acquisition does not raise competition concerns with respect to Internet-services markets or net neutrality.”

The merger requires the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, which scheduled a vote for Thursday. Republicans hold a 3-2 majority at the FCC, but Republican commissioner Robert McDowell isn’t planning to vote due to a conflict of interest related to his employment as a regulatory attorney prior to joining the agency in June.

FCC Democrats Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps are expected to push hard for conditions, just as they did last fall when the FCC approved SBC Communications’ takeover of AT&T.

“Today’s move by the Department of Justice to approve the proposed AT&T-BellSouth combination without condition is a reckless abandonment of DOJ’s responsibility to protect competition and consumers,” Adelstein said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

After acquiring BellSouth, AT&T would become the largest domestic phone company with more than 70 million local-access lines. It would also have more than 10 million digital-subscriber-line customers and more than 25 million long-distance customers.

Cingular Wireless -- a joint venture between AT&T and BellSouth, with more than 57 million subscribers -- would fall under AT&T's total control.