OVERNIGHT TECH: NBC, Comcast claim success in merger

THE LEDE: Three years after merging, NBC Universal and Comcast say they are living up to and exceeding their obligations under the law.

In a report filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the communications giant said it plans to “keep over-delivering on our commitments” in future years.

“As we’ve grown over the years through various strategic acquisitions, we have entered into those transactions steadfast in our commitment to fulfill our promises to both our customers and our communities,” David Cohen, a Comcast vice president, wrote in a company blog post on Monday. “Building on the success reported in our first and second annual reports, we have continued to meet and in many cases exceed our obligations.” 

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The FCC put a series of requirements on the company before approving the merger in 2011. Under the agency’s terms, NBC Universal and Comcast needed to expand broadband access to cover Americans with low incomes, make its programming available to competitors, preserve local news and create certain on-demand video programming intended for children, among other requirements. In each of those areas, the cable giant claims it has gone above and beyond the requirements.

“It is simply indisputable that we have honored — in fact, over-delivered — on our commitments,” Cohen wrote. “And we’ll continue to do so.”

The merger was hotly contested by public interest groups and some Democrats in Congress, who wanted the FCC to impose more restrictive requirements.

Comcast has said that its compliance with the FCC’s conditions should pave the way for federal regulators to approve a proposed $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable. The deal to unite the top two cable providers in the country would, if approved by the FCC and Department of Justice, put the company in 19 of the 20 largest markets in the country.

Critics of the proposed merger have claimed that Comcast has offered a sunnier version of its compliance record than may be accurate. For instance, a 2011 report from the consumer advocacy group Free Press claimed that, in the first quarter of the year, the company had not increased the amount of local news production aimed at Spanish-speaking audiences.

In a letter to the FCC last week, 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.) also pointed out that Comcast was fined in 2012 for hiding a way for people to get broadband without also getting cable TV and has been accused of setting caps on the amount of data consumers can use and giving unfair preference to its own content.

“Simply put, the FCC does not write on a clean slate in this matter,” he told FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Recent history, including Comcast’s adherence to the legal obligations it owes the public, should be taken into account when deciding whether to permit further consolidation in the cable and broadband markets.”

Hearings canceled: Monday’s winter storm ground most of the federal government to a halt and threw off the rest of the week’s schedule. Tuesday’s planned House Judiciary Committee hearing on “alternative solutions” for an Internet sales tax and a House Science and Technology panel’s exploration of cyber criminals were both postponed by the snow. So was a House Energy and Commerce event on renewing the satellite TV law and a Judiciary subcommittee hearing on online copyright law, both scheduled for Wednesday.

“Despite the curve ball from Old Man Winter, our thoughtful process to reauthorize the nation's satellite television law continues and we remain on track to introduce legislation by the end of the month,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), head of the Commerce subcommittee slated to hold Wednesday’s hearing, said in a statement. “We appreciate the input of our members, stakeholders, and the public as we work to reauthorize this important law before the clock runs out on many of its important provisions at the end of the year.”

House privacy working group to talk trade: The House Energy and Commerce Privacy Working Group will meet with stakeholders Wednesday to talk about privacy issues related to trade negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union, according to an aide for Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnCorker pressed as reelection challenges mount GOP braces for Bannon primary attacks Air Force One is Trump’s new boardroom MORE (R-Tenn.), who co-chairs the group along with Rep. Peter WelchPeter WelchTrump is 'open' to ObamaCare fix, lawmakers say Democrats see ObamaCare leverage in spending fights Group pushes FDA to act on soy milk labeling petition MORE (D-Vt.).

According to the aide, the group of lawmakers will meet with Jake Colvin, vice president of trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, Justin Weiss, Yahoo’s senior director for international privacy and policy, and Laura Donohue, a professor at Georgetown Law, who works on national security and privacy issues.

The group’s meeting Wednesday will focus on the compatibility of the privacy regimes between the U.S. and European Union, the aide said.

Since the revelations about U.S. government surveillance programs began surfacing last year, European lawmakers have called for an end to the Safe Harbor agreement — a trade agreement between the U.S. and EU that allows American tech companies to process data belonging to Europeans — in the hopes of keeping Europeans’ data out of the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies. The U.S. does not have adequate legal protections for Europeans whose data is processed by the country’s companies, the officials say.

In response, U.S. tech companies have lobbied on the U.S. government to rein in its surveillance programs and restore trust in the international community of tech users.

FCC claiming early success in IP transition: The IP transition, which is the effort by phone companies to switch subscribers from traditional phone technology to Internet-based phone technology, is seeing early progress, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“We are pleased that the process is off to a strong start,” Julie Veach, chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, wrote in a blog post Monday. 

Veach pointed to two applications by phone companies, including a highly anticipated one filed by AT&T last week.

“Just one month” after an FCC vote to allow companies to submit such proposals, “providers and members of the public are accepting the Commission’s invitation to participate in that process,” she wrote.

Administration files brief against Aereo:  The Obama administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting broadcasters trying to block the TV service Aereo on Monday. The solicitor general told the Supreme Court that the service, which charges a fee to let people stream live broadcast TV to their device via a number of tiny antennas, “must obtain licenses to perform the copyrighted content on which its business relies.”

“That conclusion, however, should not call into question the legitimacy of businesses that use the Internet to provide new ways for consumers to store, hear, and view their own lawfully acquired copies of copyrighted works,” the administration added.

The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on April 22.

Beef group fights TV changes: The country’s beef lobby is coming out against any potential changes to the law governing how cable and satellite companies provide local TV broadcasts. In an op-ed for The Hill, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president Jess Peterson argued that providers should not be able to cut broadcast channels off their list.  

“Local TV connects America, plain and simple,” he wrote. “Often times it’s the sole communications infrastructure connecting rural and urban communities. ... Local TV remains a steady, easy and accessible source for agriculture news, markets, and emergency communications regarding fires, flood and weather.”

 

ON TAP

Georgetown University is holding a daylong conference on creating a “safe, stable and predictable cyber environment.” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseJuan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering 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-R.I.) is scheduled to speak at 8:15 a.m., and National Security Agency head Gen. Keith Alexander is talking at 10:40 a.m.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will speak at an event on unlicensed spectrum for wireless Internet starting at 8:30 a.m.

In the afternoon, the Federal Trade Commission is holding a chat on Twitter.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

A White House-ordered privacy review group will focus its attention on the private sector's use of data, according to the group’s leader. 

A pro-immigration organization linked to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is going after House Republicans for failing to act on immigration. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the tech giant's investments in green energy in a recent meeting with shareholders after being asked to stop funneling money into green projects. 

ESPN, NBC Universal and Viacom are being fined a combined $1.9 million for misusing the emergency alert system. 

A former long-time National Security Agency official says former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks have “permanently damaged” the agency. 

 

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