On one level, AT&T’s proposed merger with BellSouth was simply the latest in a string of high-profile acquisitions by AT&T. But in 2006, the planned buyout dovetailed with national concerns about the NSA’s warrantless spying program and growing questions about whether the Federal Communications Commission has deliberately ignored damning evidence about the effects of media consolidation.
As the end of the year approached, the FCC was deadlocked on the AT&T merger, with a deciding vote likely to come soon. But watchdog groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Digital Democracy implored commissioners to get answers from AT&T about their reported participation in the NSA program (BellSouth officials denied cooperating with the NSA, but AT&T maintained a conspicuous silence on the issue).
The FCC also faced accusations that it buried two studies (issued in 2003 and 2004) offering proof that media consolidation has resulted in less local news coverage and a decrease in minority ownership. In response, 34 congressional Democrats appealed to FCC Inspector General Kent R. Nilsson to investigate the matter.
The FCC’s reputation was not helped this year when its five-year-old decision to allow NBC to purchase Telemundo came under fire after NBC decided to regionalize Telemundo’s news and eliminate several of its news divisions, including the one at San Antonio’s KVDA.
“Everybody thinks it’s going to fail,” a KVDA employee said, with regard to the regionalization plan. “`NBC Universal` consider themselves to be pioneers in this new way of delivering news, but in reality it’s going to fail.”