The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) today cleared AT&T's merger with BellSouth. AT&T General Counsel James D. Ellis announced, "This unequivocal and unconditional approval underscores the competitive nature of our industry and the pro-competitive benefits of this merger. AT&T is focused on bringing more video choices and next-generation broadband services to as many consumers as possible and our merger with BellSouth will help deliver these benefits to more consumers, more quickly".
Meanwhile, the Competition Coalition, an organization concerned about the remonopolization of the old Ma Bell telephone network, held different throughts, "Unfortunately, by endorsing the largest telecommunications merger in history, the DoJ ignored the interests of consumers and the valid concerns raised by many experts and organizations that the reconstitution of Ma Bell will lead to higher prices, job cuts, violations of customer privacy, and a widening of the digital divide. AT&T, with the help of a complicit government, is poised to control nearly half of the nation’s phone lines, and will also be the largest wireless and broadband Internet company in the country."
The DOJ's announcement comes as a federal court continues to scrutinize DoJ’s approval of the SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI mergers. Just days ago, the bipartisan leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, in a letter to DoJ, urged the agency not to act on the AT&T/BellSouth merger until the pending Tunney Act review was complete. The DoJ also received a bipartisan letter from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing similar concerns about the proposed merger.
By issuing a press release instead of a consent decree, DoJ avoids judicial review of the AT&T/BellSouth merger approval. The Tunney Act only permits judicial review of actual consent decrees, such as those entered into by the DoJ as part of its approval of the SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI mergers.
Ellis went on to say, "We commend the DOJ and its staff for conducting a professional, timely and thorough analysis. Today's communications marketplace is marked by numerous competing wireless and wireline networks, producing benefits for consumers, business customers and the economy."
"We look forward to the Federal Communications Commission's prompt approval of the merger so we can quickly begin delivering the benefits of innovative new services and increased competition to consumers."