A couple of posts ago, we talked about how FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell is being pressured to “unrecuse” himself in the AT&T takeover of BellSouth. Now Chairman Kevin Martin has taken the next step, getting outside permission. [Update: Feder's eight-page ruling came out Friday night. No surprise. It says McDowell can participate, but it's a close call.]
This move is yet another step to try to draw the analogy to case in which then-FCC Chairman William Kennard reversed a recusal to participate in a case in 2000. He noted in a statement that parties which would be most likely to question whether he would be impartial have said he could participate in a proceeding to lift rules on broadcasters dealing with personal attacks and political editorials.
Now we see a letter to FCC General Counsel Sam Feder from AT&T and BellSouth saying they have no objections if McDowell participates in the merger process. What's worth noting when you read is is that it was the FCC that asked for the views of the company.
What you don't see is whether the FCC asked anyone else for their views. As of this afternoon, no one had asked CompTel, for which McDowell previously worked and which opposes the merger, or any of the other merger opponents.
We all assume this is leading up to a ruling by Feder that McDowell can participate if he wants to. But as always, the decision will be up to McDowell, regardless of what the General Counsel finds. His statement following the Feder memo was noncommittal.
As we've said before, there is no reason to rush a merger of this size. Martin should engage in some serious negotiations with Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps to address their goals of protecting the public interest. The Justice Department neglected to take those steps in their deliberations, so it's up to the FCC now.