U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on Wednesday granted COMPTEL friend of the court status after the competitive carrier association made its case for an independent inquiry into whether the public interest is being served by the elimination of long-distance operators AT&T Corp. and MCI Inc. (see story).
The hearing lasted nearly two hours, a lot longer than anybody thought, said Jonathan Lee, COMPTELs senior vice president of regulatory affairs.
COMPTEL went to court to ask for permission to intervene in the Justice Departments requirement that AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. divest some of their unused fiber networks, as part of the conditions for approving their takeovers of AT&T Corp. and MCI Inc., respectively.
Sullivan ultimately decided not to allow COMPTEL to intervene. However, he is allowing the association essentially to act as a consultant if he has questions that would best be answered by a party other than the Department of Justice or Verizon or the new AT&T.
Lee said the judge informed the DoJ he would not rubber stamp its approval of the fiber divestiture as a condition of public interest just because it came from the government.
A healthy amount of skepticism was very clearly on display, Lee said of the judges reaction to the arguments presented from the DoJ and the RBOCs.
Sullivan now will cull through new and previously filed information pertinent to the case, and hold a conference on June 27 to ask any questions he might have, Lee said. He then is expected to hold a final hearing on July 12, at which time he might present his final decision.
The DoJs filings do say the merged firms should complete the dark-fiber leases by July 31, or else the companies wanting to use the networks will be allowed to walk away. Lee said if Sullivan intends to approve the consent decree, he likely will do so by that date. On the other hand, if he has concerns about whether the mergers serve the public interest, then he probably doesnt care whether the parties walk away or not, Lee said.