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FCC likely to approve Bells' megamerger by year's end

blog Word on Capital Hill is that the FCC will approve the $84 billion merger between AT&T and BellSouth by Friday.

Word around Washington, D.C. is that the Federal Communications Commission will approve the $84 billion merger between AT&T and BellSouth before the end of the year, which practically speaking could mean by the end of the day Friday.

On Thursday AT&T submitted a letter to the FCC agreeing to stiffer conditions on the merger, including the sell off of certain wireless airwaves in the 2.5 gigahertz band, a special $19.95 per month price tag for stand-alone basic high-speed Internet service and a promise for the next two years to adhere to Net neutrality rules outlined by the FCC.

Several consumer groups, such as Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America, have applauded the new concessions. These groups have been strongly opposed to the merger from the beginning and have been working to make sure the FCC imposes some kind of conditions on the merger. At least one of the groups, Consumer Federation of America, was involved in negotiations over the weekend between commissioners and AT&T.

For months, the commission has been split between Democrats and Republicans on what, if any, conditions should be imposed on the merger. The third Republican commissioner, Robert McDowell, has recused himself from the vote because before his confirmation to the FCC earlier this year, he had represented an industry group opposed to the merger.

Despite a special ruling by the FCC's general counsel clearing McDowell to vote, he reaffirmed his decision to stay out of the discussion and not to vote on the merger. Instead, he has urged his colleagues to work out a compromise.

Now, it looks like a deal has been made, which means a vote to approve the merger is likely imminent.