A day after the Bell Atlantic/Tele-Communications Inc. merger ended, partisan politics erupted in D.C. over whether the FCC should be blamed and whether information superhighway construction is threatened by the deal’s collapse.

Deal coming undone

A spokeswoman for Vice President Al Gore said: “I don’t see how (the two companies) can solely cite the FCC decision as the reason for killing (the deal).

It appears the companies had other internal reasons for canceling.”

The merger collapse “is not going to affect development of the information superhighway,” she said.

But Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas), the ranking GOP member of the House telecommunications subcommittee, claimed Tuesday’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission to reduce cable rates an extra 7% beyond 10% reductions adopted last April will deter infopike developments by “several years.”

In unusually tough remarks, Fields asserted in an interview that the deal’s demise was a “direct result of (FCC chairman) Reed Hundt being a puppet and bowing to political pressure” from Congress to cut cable rates.

“We do not have an independent FCC chairman,” Fields asserted. “His string can be pulled” by Congress.

Fields’ comments reflect the partisan warfare that’s erupted between Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House telecommunications subcommittee, and GOP members of the panel.

Prior to this week’s FCC decision, Markey and a number of leading Democrats lobbied the FCC heavily for additional rate cuts.

Markey indicated skepticism over Bell Atlantic and TCI’s claim that the FCC price rollbacks prompted the dissolution.”Whatever the real reason this deal fell through,” said Markey, “I would find it surprising that any deal predicated on a cable company’s ability to charge consumers monopoly rates would survive in this emerging era of communications competition.”

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