FCC Dems Get a Few Concessions in Verizon-MCI/SBC-AT&T ClusterMerger

As I reported in this week’s radioshow, the FCC’s Democrats have had the opportunity to flex a little muscle in favor of the public interest. Mostly, it’s caused Chairman Martin to delay some issues–like media ownership rules–until the Bush Administration can get around to appointing a fifth commissioner and third Republican.

But Martin couldn’t significantly delay a vote on the big Verizon-MCI and SBC-AT&T mergers. The Commission was already supposed to vote on the deal last Friday, but had to put it off until today because Martin was still dealing with the Democrats. Martin didn’t want to impose any conditions on the deals, but ended up having to compromise in order to get it passed.

Of course, the Dems couldn’t get everything they wanted. Commissioner Michael Copps told the AP, “Am I entirely satisfied? No.”

Among the conditions the the Dems got are:

  • A 30-month freeze on wholesale prices on high-capacity lines charged to competitors.
  • To provide, within 1 year of the merger completions, DSL service to customers without requiring the purchase of basic POTS telephone service.
  • For 30 months to essentially guarantee network neutrality — to not discriminate in providing access to other companies and competitors.

Of course, these conditions are penny ante compared to the billions that the SBC/Verizon duopoly will reap as a result of these deals. Yet, even these paltry conditions would probably never have been imposed if the Republicans had their 3 to 2 majority on the FCC, like the party in power typically enjoys.

You don’t hear much about it in the newspapers or TV pundit shows, but there is some value to the Democrats slowing and mucking up the approval of presidential appointees. If the Bushies hadn’t had to work so hard to get federal judges nominated, there probably would already be two new Republican commissioners at the FCC, and the Dems wouldn’t be much of a threat.

As it is, these deals pretty much send us back to the days of solid regional Bell monopolies. Don’t be surprised when your rates creep up over the next couple of years, as competition wanes, and the imperative for SBC and Verizon to improve service and speed slowly evaporates.

Despite the exhortations of the greedy bastards raking in your telecomm dollars, this has nothing to do with competition and everything to do with establishing market control.

I’m surprised the Verizon and SBC execs can keep a straight face when they say things like:

“it is clear that this combination is undeniably in the public interest,” said Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications.

Or, to paraphrase Charlie Wilson, “What’s good for the SBC/Verizon duopoly is good for America.”