The Embarq/CenturyTel merger is not just pending FCC approval. The transaction, which affects more than eight million access lines in 33 states, must be approved by regulatory agencies in several states.
Washington and Oregon are pivotal in this, partly because of the extensive rural coverage CenturyTel has in both states, and the merger raises substantive issues about industry consolidation and quality of rural service. Were the Washington or Oregon Public Utility Commission to deny the merger, it would likely kill the deal. It is for this reason that Embarq and CenturyTel tried to avoid having the Oregon PUC rule on the merger until a decision by the Oregon Attorney General forced them to do so.
Embarq and CenturyTel tried to fly under the radar, quietly filing their petition on January 1, 2009 with the Oregon PUC (note that the actual petition doesn’t start until page 218 of the .pdf; the rest is data pro forma required by the PUC — got to love state PUCs for having data requirements for corporate petitioners that the FCC never thought about having). There was no public notice until Administrative Law Judge Allan J. Arlow issued a Notice of Prehearing Conference on the PUC website today. The conference will take place on Friday, March 6, 2009 at 1:30 p.m. at the PUC in Salem. This conference “will be to identify parties and interested persons, establish a service list with addresses and telephone numbers, identify issues, and set a procedural schedule.” It is possible to be conference-called into this conference from out-of-state. Call the number on the Notice to arrange it.
What is extremely important is that this proceeding is moving forward very quickly. Parties which have filed as intervenors in other states, including public interest groups, have apparently not taken notice of this fact, as evidenced by the lack of filers in the relevant docket, UM-1416. It is possible to file as an intervenor or interested party electronically. Essentially, if there are few intervenors, it is likelier that public hearings will not take place.
There is a real chance to get serious conditions imposed on this merger if people move fast.