Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said Monday that Republican Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell should vote to abstain on AT&T’s $81 billion merger with BellSouth -- a giant deal that has been deadlocked at the agency for many weeks.
“If the FCC general counsel takes action to compel commissioner McDowell's participation, I strongly urge commissioner McDowell to announce his intention to vote to abstain as a matter of principle,” Markey said in a prepared statement.
McDowell, who joined the FCC in June, has declined to participate because his last employer was a trade group opposed to the merger, which would leave three Baby Bells standing from the original seven in 1984.
McDowell’s absence has reduced the five-member FCC to four voting members -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- and fights over Internet network neutrality have produced the partisan standoff.
In a Dec. 1 letter to four congressional leaders, including Markey, Martin said he asked FCC general counsel Sam Feder to determine whether McDowell should vote to break the logjam.
"I believe that forcing a commissioner to participate in a proceeding in which he or she would otherwise be recused is an extraordinary notion for an independent, impartial regulatory agency,” Markey said.
Martin’s letter, however, did not state that he was taking steps to force McDowell to vote, as Markey’s letter implied. Martin also said that in terms of precedent, former FCC chairman William Kennard, a Democrat, voted in September 2000 to break a deadlock after obtaining approval to participate.
Last week, Markey announced that in January, with the start of the new Congress, he intended to take the chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet -- a panel with direct oversight of the FCC.