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Bell rivals called on the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to take additional time to review two major telecom mergers, arguing that the agency has received “incomplete” data on the proposed deals. The FCC and the Department of Justice’s antitrust division are reviewing Verizon Communications Inc.’s proposed acquisition of MCI Inc. and SBC Communications Inc.’s planned merger with AT&T Corp. But a group of telecom companies, including XO Communications Inc., Cbeyond Communications Inc., Eschelon Telecom Inc. and TDS Metrocom, contend that the FCC has “materially incomplete” data about the impact of the two mergers on competition. A group of consumer organizations, including the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, is also expected to press the agency to delay its reviews. The companies, in effect, are asking the FCC to stop the informal, 180-day clock it uses when evaluating large telecom transactions. SBC and AT&T submitted their merger application in March and are on day 76 as of Wednesday. The Verizon-MCI review is on day 63. Based on the FCC schedule, both reviews would be completed by fall, though most telecom policy observers expect the approvals to take far longer. FCC spokesman Mark Whigfield declined to comment on whether the agency will stop the clock. “The FCC will take whatever time it needs to complete its review of the mergers and is not bound by the informal clock,” he said. “The agency tries to complete its deal reviews as close to the timelines as possible.” The FCC had stopped the clock on previous reviews. In 2003 it decided it needed to collect additional data on News Corp.’s $6.6 billion acquisition of DirecTV Group Inc., so the agency stopped the clock on the deal between Oct. 10 and Nov. 17 of that year. The group also wants the agency to consider combining the two mergers in one review, to eliminate redundancies and take into account the interrelated nature of both deals. “The FCC needs to look at both merging telecommunications companies together because the deals with collectively have a major impact on the telecom landscape,” XO Communications regulatory affairs director Christopher McKee told a Washington roundtable on Wednesday. SBC Communications assistant general counsel Gary Phillips said at the same assembly that he does not oppose the agency combining the merger reviews. The group of Bell rivals petitioned the FCC on May 9, calling on the agency to deny the telecom deals, contending that they reduce competition in the enterprise telecom market. SBC’s Phillips said the company’s acquisition of AT&T will not hurt competition in most markets. The deal, he added, is necessary to fend off new forms of competition from so-called voice-over-Internet-protocol providers and cable companies entering the voice and data space. The FCC and the Justice Department are expected to approve the deals, but with conditions. The agencies may require the spinoff of special access lines, which are dedicated high-speed broadband lines large businesses use for voice and data communications. The agency could instead require that SBC and Verizon provide competitors access to the lines at reasonable rates. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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