OVERNIGHT TECH: Lawmakers eye Comcast, Time Warner Cable deal

THE LEDE: Lawmakers are looking to examine and weigh in on Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

The $45.2 billion deal, announced Thursday, combines the first and second largest cable companies in the country, and some are calling on regulators to protect competition in the cable market by protecting the deal. The companies, on the other hand, argue that competition in the marketplace will be benefited rather than harmed by the deal, because the two companies do not compete in any markets.

The House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce Antitrust subcommittee have both announced plans to examine the deal. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program House votes to crack down on undocumented immigrants with gang ties House Judiciary Dems want panel to review gun silencer bill MORE (R-Va.) and Antitrust subcommittee Chairman Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusBusiness pressure ramps up against Trump's Ex-Im nominee Trump considering withdrawing Ex-Im nominee: report Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee MORE (R-Ala.) said in a statement that the Committee will hold “a hearing to examine the proposed merger to ensure that the interests of American consumers and overall competition in the marketplace are protected.”

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Live coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill MORE (D-Vt.) said in a statement that he “will closely monitor the response of the FCC and the antitrust authorities to this transaction.”

In a letter, Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts Overnight Regulation: FTC launches probe into Equifax | Dems propose tougher data security rules | NYC aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions | EPA to reconsider Obama coal ash rule Overnight Cybersecurity: Kaspersky to testify before House | US sanctions Iranians over cyberattacks | Equifax reveals flaw that led to hack MORE (D-Minn.) urged regulators — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderJuan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering GOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections House votes to curb asset seizures MORE — “to act quickly and decisively to ensure that consumers are not exposed to increased cable prices and decreased quality of service as a result of this transaction.”

Franken cited frustration about high cable bills due to a lack of competition among cable companies. “A handful of cable providers dominate the market, leaving consumers with little choice but to pay high bills for often unsatisfactory service,” he wrote. “I am concerned that Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner would only make things worse for consumers.”

Franken also expressed concern at Comcast’s growth as a result of the acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal “gave Comcast too much control over television content, control Comcast could exert to raise prices, thus harming consumers and competitors,” he wrote. “Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner threatens to extend Comcast's domination of both the cable and content markets even further.”

Eshoo wants video debate now: Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) — ranking member of the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications and candidate for the ranking member spot on the overall committee — said that she is hopeful Congress can address problems in the video marketplace in the near future rather than as part of the yearslong process to reform the Communications Act, the foundational communications industry law.

“We need video reform,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to wait five, six years.”

Speaking on an upcoming episode of CSPAN’s "The Communicators," Eshoo pushed her video marketplace bill, which would change the way broadcasters and cable companies negotiate. Currently, if a cable company and broadcasters can’t agree on how much the cable company should pay to air the broadcaster’s programming, that cable company’s subscribers lose access to the programming.

“I do think we have the capacity to address this because I don’t think it’s a sustainable business model,” she said. “I think that consumers really are at the short end of the stick when these blackouts occur.”

Eshoo said her net neutrality bill is unlikely to move in Congress but that it sends a message to the Federal Communications Commission that it must find a way to reinstate its net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites but was struck down in court earlier this year.

“I think setting a bill down in the Congress ... really reflects millions and millions and millions of people ... that want the Internet to remain accessible,” she said.

Web, cable companies ask for Wi-Fi: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to turn more of the nation’s airwaves into space for Wi-Fi Internet access, according to a coalition of tech and communications companies. A new business alliance, calling itself WifiForward, is pressing the government to preserve unlicensed spectrum for wireless access.  

The coalition includes Google, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable and the American Library Association, among other members. They will seek to protect existing unlicensed spectrum, free up new airwaves for Wi-Fi use and push for “investment-friendly, transparent and predictable” rules for unlicensed spectrum space. 

In upcoming spectrum auctions, the group wants the FCC to open up more of the country’s airwaves to Wi-Fi, which currently carries more Internet traffic in the U.S. than any other connection pathway. According to a study from the coalition, unlicensed spectrum contributed $222 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013. 

Spies faulted for tracking contractors: A Government Accountability Office report found vulnerabilities in the way government intelligence agencies keep track of contractors that perform “core” functions. Lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee expressed concern about the report on Thursday. They said that leaks from former National Security Agency contractors Edward Snowden raised concerns about the way spy agencies keep tabs on their contractors.

The Senate committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on Thursday about the use of government contractors, but the panel’s session was postponed because of a snowstorm that hit Washington. 

Online ad industry slams data broker bill: The Direct Marketing Association, which represents online ad companies, came out against a new bill that would require online tracking companies to allow consumers to view and correct the information about themselves held by the companies. The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act, introduced by Sens. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.) and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Regulation: FTC launches probe into Equifax | Dems propose tougher data security rules | NYC aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions | EPA to reconsider Obama coal ash rule Overnight Cybersecurity: Kaspersky to testify before House | US sanctions Iranians over cyberattacks | Equifax reveals flaw that led to hack Dems propose data security bill after Equifax hack MORE (D-Mass.), would “hamstring an industry that is the brightest beacon of American innovation ... for no good reason,” the group’s CEO, Linda Woolley, said in a statement. DMA pointed to its recent study, which found that data driven marketing added $156 billion to the American economy in 2012.

“Imposing an access and correction regime on marketing data is not necessary to protect consumer privacy and doing so would make it harder for companies to keep data secure at a time when consumers are more concerned about identity theft than ever before,” Peggy Hudson, DMA’s senior vice president of government affairs, said.

White House petition launched to block merger: Critics of Comcast’s plan to by Time Warner Cable have launched a petition on WhiteHouse.Gov to block the deal.

“The announced merger between cable company giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable will create less choice for millions of consumers for cable TV services and offer TV producers fewer points of negotiation for distribution,” the petition reads. “It's time for the U.S. to develop and encourage a better way for us to get access to good TV entertainment.”

More than 2,000 people have added their name to the effort, but it still has a long way to go. At least 100,000 need to sign on before the White House will react. 

FTC warns online daters: Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the Federal Trade Commission is warning people looking for dates online that their would-be cupid may turn out to be a scammer. People should be skeptical of potential sweethearts who claim to be working or traveling overseas, put off upcoming trips on short notice or claim love “in a heartbeat,” the trade commission cautions.

The agency has a webpage set up to help people avoid getting swindled. 

“Don’t send money to tide someone over after a mugging or robbery, and don’t do anyone a favor by making an online purchase or forwarding a package to another country,” it warns. “One request leads to another, and delays and disappointments will follow. In the end, the money will be gone along with the person you thought you knew.”

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable will not affect deals with broadcasters, Comcast officials said Thursday.

Consumer advocates are calling on a federal appeals court to throw out a settlement with Facebook that they say does not go far enough to protect children’s privacy.

Executives at Comcast and Time Warner have showered President Obama and congressional Democrats with campaign contributions.

The retail and financial industries are laying down their swords to come together on a new initiative to combat cyber crime.

 

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