Little Telcos’ Merger Challenge Adds New Wrinkle to Net Neutrality Fight

Last year the dual mergers of AT&T with SBC and Verizon with MCI passed the justice department with nary a speedbump and only the most minimal of conditions. Those mergers also gave reason to kick off the campaign for network neutrality, because it was the newly engorged and emboldened AT&T and Verizon which started making noises about charging internet content creators.

Now CompTel, the industry association for the competing telcos, wants a shot at forcing some stronger conditions on the mergers. Comptel says the 2004 revised Tunney Act allows it to intervene, and the district court has the power to decide that matter.

Comptel is using the rhetoric of protecting the public interest. And in as much that healthy competition in the provision of telecomm services is in the public interest, I buy it. Of course, the business of most CompTel members (except maybe Qwest, the littlest Baby Bell) depends on being the big telco’s competition.

If CompTel finds any success it will add another dimension to the network neutrality fight. Back in Februrary, in front of the Senate Commerce Committee, CompTel CEO Earl Comstock strongly supported network neutrality. And last week the group sent out a press release praising Rep. Markey’s standalone net neutrality bill.

Therefore it’s quite reasonable to predict that network neutrality provisions will be on CompTel’s agenda if it gets intervener status from the courts.

It’s also worth noting that in March CompTel gave its “Champions of Competition” award to Rep. James Sensenbrenner or Wisconsin, who is also the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Not coincidentally, Sensenbrenner is making a strong bid to have his committee review the big telecomm bill (absent net neutrality provisions) that the Commerce Commitee passed two weeks ago.


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