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No proposed telecommunications industry merger that has come before this Commission has been more momentous than this. For that reason, none has been more difficult, consumed more time, or engendered more passionate controversy on both sides.

I am pleased to report that today we resolve this momentous matter in a dispassionate, measured, thoughtful way that follows a very simple principle: put the interests of telecommunications consumers first. The Commission chose to reject both extremes advanced by proponents and opponents of this merger --- approval without conditions or disapproval without conditions. These extremes were more alike than different. They had in common a failure to move the status quo, to further advance competition in local telecommunications markets.

I was determined that this Commission not fall prey to the trap of choosing between two extremes that held out so little promise for progress. And I was equally determined that in charting a middle course between these extremes we be guided by that simple principle: put the consumers' interests first.

The option we choose today not only balances the contending issues at stake but it moves forward, in a concrete wave, virtually the entire telecommunications industry. The conditions to which SBC and Ameritech agreed, after arduous but entirely professional and good faith discussions with Commission staff, will change the status quo to the benefit of telecommunications consumers. These conditions will create an irreversible momentum to open local markets, both inside and outside of the SBC-Ameritech territories, while freeing all industry participants to compete fully and fairly to offer advanced telecommunications services to all Americans.

The conditions will also expedite the deployment of high speed Internet access and other broadband services to consumers in low income and rural areas.

The conditions are unprecedented because this merger is unprecedented. The merger is unprecedented in its size, its scope, and the extent to which it brings many local telephone customers under the roof of one company. The conditions are commensurately unprecedented in their detail, their clarity, their enforceability, and the vigor with which they inject competitive forces into heretofore-closed local markets.

I am proud that we are able today to announce this victory for consumers.

Because of the importance of this merger to consumers, I insisted that our review process be transparent and provide ample opportunity for public input. In addition to the standard comment and reply comment opportunities, the Commission held two public forums to discuss the proposed merger. Accordingly, we followed procedures, which permitted effective, open and forthright discussion in the context of an open reporting process. The Commission staff first met with representatives of SBC and Ameritech, with each meeting memorialized by a letter that summarized the topics discussed and that was included in the public record. Then, in order to learn the views of interested parties, our staff conducted an additional public forum on May 6 at which numerous citizens, representatives of citizens' groups, and industry members spoke. The staff also met extensively, in individual sessions, with dozens of individuals, groups and firms throughout the process, with those meetings also summarized for the public record.

No merger in the history of this Commission has been subjected to a more open and transparent process.

The success of this process is evident from a comparison of the initial proposed conditions, filed on July 1, with the late August revision and subsequent updates. This comparison shows that public input substantially altered and improved the final product.

I commend my colleagues, and I want to thank especially the Commission staff for the exceptional work that they have done. It is a truly extraordinary accomplishment that will provide lasting benefits to America's consumers.