Friday, December 08, 2006

New Congress Hostile to Ma Bell's Man at the FCC

Incoming congressional leaders are taking a bleak view of efforts by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to push through a series of Internet and media rulings before the Democratic Congress gains oversight of his agency.


FCC Chairman Martin (right) in bed with corporate lobbyists

Neutrality. To accomplish this he's turning screws on one commissioner, Robert McDowell, pressuring him to violate professional ethics, "un-recuse" himself and rubber stamp the $82 billion deal.

McDowell had opted out of the vote citing a conflict of interest because he used to work for one of the stakeholders in the merger debate.

But that wasn't good enough for Chairman Martin. The former Bush-Cheney errand boy reportedly has his eyes on the North Carolina governor's mansion and he's yearning to deliver on promises to the telecommunications giants that he hopes will return the favor when the time is right. (In the last cycle, AT&T gave 66 percent of their political patronage to Republican candidates.)

If forced, McDowell would cast Martin's deciding vote for the AT&T merger.

Today tens of thousands of Internet freedom activists are taking action to stop Martin's plan. They're signing on to a public letter to Congress, which states in part that:
"The federal government must not permit the reconstitution of Ma Bell without first protecting consumers and the public against anti-competitive activities and market failure. No public interest goals are served by handing out favors to large corporations without any safeguards to maximize public benefit."
You can sign the letter by clicking here.

Martin's move has drawn fire from some of the most powerful politicians in Washington. Tuesday, incoming leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committee that oversee the FCC, John Dingell (D-MI) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) both sent letters to Chairman Martin.

Dingell's letter demanded an explanation, and stated that he wants the merger handled "without compromising the ethical standards of the independent agency or the individual Commissioners involved." Inouye questioned Martin's rationale for forcing the vote, and urged him to negotiate with the Democratic FCC commissioners.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) wrote the chairman: “When public servants have identified and recused themselves from legitimate conflicts of interest, they should be commended for upholding the highest standards of public integrity.”

Will Martin hear the recent public outcry against political patronage and corruption (loudly delivered via the polls on Nov. 7) and bow to new leadership in Congress?

We'll find out later this month when the Commission is due to move on the merger. In the meantime, keep an eye on Martin as he maneuvers for special interests in a policy climate that has suddenly turned more hostile to his mix of politics and big business.

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