FCC allows member to vote on AT&T-Bellsouth deal

The Federal Communications Commission's top lawyer authorized one of its members to vote on the proposed buyout of BellSouth by AT&T, despite an apparent conflict of interest, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report said the move could break a deadlock on the deal.

The decision came a week after FCC chairman Kevin Martin declared an impasse in the proceeding and asked General Counsel Sam Feder to determine whether Commissioner Robert McDowell, a former lobbyist, should be allowed to vote on the $84 billion acquisition, the report said.

The deal would be the biggest in US telecommunications history, the report said.

The next open meeting for the agency is December 20, but Martin said in an interview with The Associated Press that he does not anticipate putting the issue up for a vote then.

It would not give McDowell enough time to get 'up to speed' on the issues, Martin said.

In Feder's eight-page opinion, he argued that McDowell should be allowed to vote because he had not participated in the merger proceeding as a lobbyist, did not stand to gain financially from his vote and that it would be impossible for someone else to take his place in the proceeding.

But Feder was also clearly torn, noting that Robert Cusick, director of the Office of Government Ethics had said the decision was a close call on which reasonable people could differ and that Cusick said he would decide against authorization but that 'the FCC could reasonably come out the other way.'

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