updated 10/12/2006 9:13:50 AM ET 2006-10-12T13:13:50

The Federal Communications Commission is putting off for a day its consideration of AT&T Inc.’s proposed takeover of BellSouth Corp., a mega-merger that some government officials want to examine more closely.

An FCC vote is the final major regulatory hurdle facing the $78.5 billion deal that would create the nation’s biggest provider of telephone, wireless and broadband Internet services.

The agency had scheduled the merger vote for its Thursday meeting but decided late Wednesday to postpone the discussion. On Friday, the FCC is to take up the AT&T proposal as well as a controversial issue known as “network neutrality,” which deals with whether Internet service providers must provide equal treatment to all traffic on their networks.

The FCC did not say why it was delaying a vote. “We are committed to evaluating merger applications fairly and in a manner consistent with the public interest,” agency spokesman Clyde Ensslin said in a statement Wednesday night. “We are continuing to work to complete our AT&T and BellSouth merger review in a timely manner.”

Some members of Congress oppose the merger, and two FCC commissioners questioned its impact on consumers even after the Justice Department gave its unconditional approval to the buyout on Wednesday after finding no potentially adverse effects on competition.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, called the decision a “reckless abandonment” of the Justice Department’s responsibility to protect competition and consumers. The agency’s other Democrat, Michael Copps, accused the department of failing both consumers and small businesses by refusing to impose any conditions on the merger.

Meanwhile, the FCC’s Republican chairman, Kevin Martin, has circulated an order recommending approval. He probably will be supported by Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, also a Republican.

The remaining member of the five-person FCC, Robert McDowell, the third Republican, has removed himself from the case because of his previous work with a trade association that fought against AT&T and BellSouth in the past.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and other members of Congress had asked that the deal be held up until a federal judge decided whether two previous telecommunications company mergers, which were challenged by the Justice Department, were in the public interest.

If the deal wins final government approval, the merger would give San Antonio-based AT&T total control over the nation’s largest cellular provider, Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of the two companies that serves 57.3 million customers.

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