Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell yesterday announced his decision to not vote on the proposed merger of AT&T and BellSouth, the approval of which has been the subject of a longstanding deadlock along party lines at the commission.

Prior to joining the FCC, McDowell was an attorney for COMPTEL, a trade association representing competitive carriers that opposed the AT&T-BellSouth merger. Given this background, McDowell recused himself on the advice of the Office of Government Ethics, but the FCC’s general counsel issued a memo earlier this month provided legal grounds that would let him vote.

In a statement yesterday, McDowell said the FCC general counsel recommendation was the “legal equivalent … of Swiss cheese” and said he would not vote. Without McDowell’s participation, there is a much greater chance that net-neutrality conditions will be included in the commission’s approval of the merger, which is expected to impact the high-speed Internet and wireless markets.