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AT&T compromise may get merger approved
WASHINGTON Ã¢â¬â AT&T Inc. has offered a new set of concessions that are expected to satisfy the two Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission and lead to approval of the company’s $85 billion buyout of BellSouth Corp. Approval by the full commission could happen as soon as Friday.
AT&T filed a letter of commitment with the agency Thursday night that adds a number of new conditions to the deal, including a promise to observe “network neutrality” principles, an offer of affordable stand-alone digital subscriber line service and a promise to give up some wireless spectrum.
Final approval still requires a vote of the commissioners, which can happen at any time via computer. The proposed deal is the largest telecommunications merger in U.S. history.
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Among the promises made by the company:
_An offer of stand-alone, high-speed Internet service to customers in its service area for $19.95 per month. The “naked DSL (digital subscriber line)” offer would allow those who live in AT&T and BellSouth’s service areas to sign up for fast Internet access without being required to buy a package of other services.
_A greater commitment to network neutrality, or nondiscrimination involving Internet traffic. AT&T said it would “maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service.”
_To freeze rates for “special access” customers, usually competitors and large businesses that pay to connect directly to a regional phone company’s central office via a dedicated fiber optic line, for 48 months.
_To “assign and/or transfer to an unaffiliated third party” all of its 2.5 GHZ spectrum currently licensed to BellSouth within one year of the merger closing date.
_To “repatriate” 3,000 jobs that were outsourced by BellSouth outside the U.S. by Dec. 31, 2008, with at least 200 of those jobs to be located in New Orleans.
Ben Scott, legislative director for Free Press, a reform group that has fought the merger, said the network neutrality provision was a “big step forward for the supporters of an open Internet.”
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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