After one false start, the Federal Communications Commission this morning issued for public comment the conditions that AT&T proposed for the $80 billion takeover of BellSouth.
For the record, the Commission had to do the exercise twice because for whatever reason, the first document posted on the Commission's Web site didn't have the Net Neutrality paragraph included. To be fair, the document didn't gain anything by having the Net Neutrality language. The conditions offered by the proposed new national duopoloy are relatively feeble, and were agreed to when SBC gobbled up AT&T a year ago. The new combined company will abide by the four non-enforceable “principles” of Net Neutrality set out by the Commission, but only for a limited period of time.
What's not there is any language barring discrimination against any other application or service provider. What's not there is any language that makes the promise worth anything. You can see for yourself here. Comments are due at the FCC on Oct. 24, with Nov. 3 the scheduled date for a decision.
There are a couple of intriguing factors in the new AT&T offer. Technically speaking, the document that the FCC put out for a comment was a report on a meeting the company held with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. In addition to the conditions it proposed, the company reported it also “discussed the possibility of further conditions relating to the repatriation to BellSouth territory of jobs that had been expatriated to overseas locations, Internet backbone peering arrangement, network neutrality non-discrimination, and the impact of Commission forbearance decisions on any conditions that might be imposed.”
Just what, pray tell, was discussed on these topics? Were these topics simply raised by commissioners, or did AT&T make any offers for stronger conditions than those that were officially put out for comment?
There's no doubt AT&T is trying hard to sweeten the pot with anything it can throw in. It promised to serve all the residential units in the combined service territory with broadband, albeit as defined by the FCC at a pitiful 200 kpbs. Sounding more like a sale at your local electronics store, rather than a merger that bring together most of the old Bell System, the company said it would throw in free DSL modems along with DSL service at $10 per month (new customers only).
That's sweet, but not enough when it comes to recreating half of the Bell System. Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein stood up for the public interest in delaying the merger the first time. They should look askance at these “conditions” as well.