US lawmakers question move by FCC on AT&T deal

Two powerful US Democrats on Capitol Hill sharply questioned a move by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission to allow a fellow commissioner who had claimed a conflict of interest to vote on the largest US telecommunications industry merger, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report said Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye wrote FCC chairman Kevin Martin expressing 'disappointment' in Martin's 'apparent willingness to waive government rules' to allow former lobbyist and current commissioner Robert McDowell to vote on the proposed merger of AT&T and BellSouth.

Democratic Congressmen John Dingell and Ed Markey sent a letter to the FCC's general counsel asking 15 pointed questions about past precedent of such recusals and other issues, the Associated Press report said.

Their dismay takes on added significance because the Democrats will take control of the U.S. Congress in January. Inouye will be chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Dingell will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Both committees oversee the FCC, the report said.

The commission deadlocked on AT&T's proposed $82 billion acquisition of BellSouth. Martin, who favors approval of the deal, told members of Congress that he had asked the FCC's counsel to consider whether to allow McDowell to vote, the report said.

McDowell, one of three Republicans on the five-person commission, had recused himself because he is a former lobbyist for a trade group that opposes the merger. Despite that background, Martin is betting McDowell will cast a deciding vote in favor of the deal, the report said.