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Hold Off On AT&T/BellSouth, Says Dingell

Soon to be House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) says he wants the FCC to hold off on Okaying the AT&T/BellSouth merger, something the FCC has been doing a pretty good job of itself.

He also says the committee will have to take a hard look at any FCC loosening of media ownership rules,  and will take a new crack at a telecom reform bill, with an eye on net neutrality and spectrum for first responders.

At a press conference Wednesday, Dingell said that he would prefer that the FCC hold off on approving the AT&T/BellSouth merger until the new Congress convenes in January and the new committee has oversight, saying the committee will have to take a hard look--the committee will be taking a lot of hard looks, apparently--to see if the FCC is seeing to it that the public interest is being served.

Dingell said he has already sent a letter to the FCC asking what the commission proposes to do about the merger, and expected to put a finer point on it, "reinforcing that letter so as to help the commission avoid surprise and ill will in their dealings with the committee," he said. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's office had no comment.

Asked wether he meant he wanted the FCC to hold off, Dingell said: "I think it would be in their interest, I think it would be in the interest of the committee, and in the broad public interest."

So far, the FCC has been unable to vote on the merger after three attempts by Chairman Kevin Martin.

The Democrats who have been holding up the vote now have an even stronger hand with fellow Dem Dingell atop the committee.
Dingell said that there were questions about whether localism was being served under the current media ownership rules, and that the committee would have to make certain the FCC was acting in the public's interest. Under court order, the FCC is taking a second try at revising media ownership rules.
He also said the committee would have to take it from the to on a telecom bill. He did not support the bill passed out of committee under Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.).

"I think we're going to try to do that [bill] again in a responsible way...including taking a hard look at how the FCC is administering the law, particularly with regard to making spectrum available to fire and public safety."

He said that the new telecom bill would "clearly" have to address network neutrality, spectrum for public safety, the universal service fund, and the public interest in general.
Asked whether a new bill would have a chance given that the Bells might sit out a Democratic retake, Dingell said his audience would have to wait and see. But he pointed out that he had been "very helpful" to the Bells in the past. ""We will try to see to it that they are treated properly," he said. "But our duty is not just to the Bells, but to good public policy and to protecting the public interest."

He would not comment on whether Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will be named chairman of the Telecommunications Subcommittee--he is almost certain to be--saying Markey had not yet made his wishes known.

Dingell said the committee would look seriously at the issues of drug advertising and indecency as well. "Those are all concerns of the committee...because the committee will care about it and because I believe something has to be done."