FCC Delays Vote on Telecoms Mergers Vote

By Jeremy Pelofsky

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it postponed until Monday a meeting to vote on Verizon Communications' $8.6 billion purchase of MCI Inc. and SBC Communications Inc.'s $16 billion acquisition of AT&T Corp.

The FCC had tried to schedule votes several times on Friday, but sources close to the matter said the commissioners and staff were still reviewing and negotiating conditions the agency may require before clearing the deals.

The agency plans to take up the mergers at a public meeting that is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) Monday. An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the reason for the delay.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had proposed approving the deals without any conditions. The agency is split with two Republicans and two Democrats so Martin must convince at least one Democrat to support his decision or reach a compromise.

One seat on the commission has been vacant since March when then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell stepped down and President George W. Bush has yet to name anyone to fill the position.

The lack of a Republican majority for Martin has caused problems before. He was unable to launch a new review of media ownership restrictions because of a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats.

One source close to the matter said some of the conditions under consideration include freezing for two years or more the wholesale rates that SBC and Verizon charge competitors for leasing parts of their networks.

Other conditions could include forcing Verizon and SBC to offer high-speed Internet service without requiring customers to also sign up for local telephone service and ensuring a subscriber can surf where they choose on the Internet, said the source who declined to be identified.

Competing telephone companies have pushed for price controls for wholesale access to Verizon's and SBC's networks. Consumer advocates have urged that the two carriers be forced to offer customers high-speed Internet service without subscribing to local telephone service.

Consumer groups have warned that SBC and Verizon's acquisitions of AT&T and MCI, respectively, would doom competition for customers, lead to higher prices and result in poorer service.

SBC spokesman Michael Balmoris said "we're confident the FCC recognizes the benefits of our merger with AT&T, and we look forward to a favorable vote."

Verizon spokesman David Fish declined to comment.

The U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division approved the two transactions on Thursday on the condition they each offer long-term leases to competitors for extra lines into some buildings.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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