Nowhere is the spirit of volunteerism more evident than when mergers are pending at the FCC. In the FCC's press release today, it pointed out that the order adopts as enforceable conditions "certain voluntary commitments" made by the merger applicants. In a letter submitted to the FCC only hours before the agency acted, SBC said that it "steadfastly" believed no further conditions (other than those imposed by the DOJ) were warranted. It went on to say, however: "Nevertheless, in the interest of facilitating the speediest possible approval of the merger by the Commission, and in response to a request from the staff, Applicants would agree to the following additional merger conditions." And this too: "Applicants reserve the right to withdraw these voluntary commitments upon two days' written notice to the Commission if the Commission has not approved the merger at that time." I don't have it, but I'm sure Verizon made a similar "voluntary" submission.
What a curious strain of volunteerism is this, and volunteerism on such a short leash too!
We might have a good debate about the merits of the rules that the Commission (or its staff!) has crafted and whether they would make sense if adopted in a rulemaking proceeding. But it seems to me not very debatable that the use of the merger process to fashion company-specific conditions not closely related to competitive concerns raised by the merger is unwise and unseemly. I said as much in "Any Volunteers" over five years ago. And Commissioner Abernathy, to her credit, said as much today in her statement on the mergers.
Voluntary conditions? Sometimes you wonder who will do most to destroy the ordinary meaning of the English language--the FCC or those it regulates.