OVERNIGHT TECH: FCC ownership rules under microscope

THE LEDE: House lawmakers on Wednesday will question the value of existing regulations on ownership of media companies.

The House Energy and Commerce Communications subcommittee will hear from a handful of media groups, coalitions and the head of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) media bureau about whether the existing rules have stood the test of time, especially as new forms of news and entertainment have taken hold online and on cable channels.

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“The question is are the media ownership rules today even credible in today’s technological society?” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a member of the subcommittee, told The Hill off the House floor. “Hopefully we flesh that out, make that case. Because if you stay under the same rules, there’s a chance you make it more difficult for the local purveyors of news and information to survive.”

Republicans have criticized the regulations and lambasted the FCC for moving forward with additional restrictions to broadcasters operating in the same media market. Under a proposal approved by the FCC in March, broadcast companies would be effectively banned from sharing more than 15 percent of their advertising resources, a practice that broadcasters say is necessary for them to operate.

Bill Lake, chief of the FCC’s media bureau, will tell lawmakers on the committee that the commission is hard at work on a much-delayed review of existing media rules, but that “media ownership limits remain necessary in the current marketplace despite the prevalence of new electronic media.” Newspapers and broadcast TV and radio still play a “vital role” in the media industry, he said in his written testimony, even while the market is “in transition.”

The move limiting broadcasters from sharing advertising, he added, is necessary to limit “a realistic potential to unduly influence or control programming decisions or other core operations of the licensee.”

Jane Mago, executive vice president with the National Association of Broadcasters, will retort that the existing rules “do not best serve the public interest” and that the FCC “has failed to fulfill its obligation to review and update the broadcast ownership rules in light of current competitive conditions.”

“The current broadcast ownership rules are out of touch with the reality of the media marketplace,” she added in prepared remarks. “They distort competition.”

That sentiment will be shared by Newspaper Association of America senior vice president Paul Boyle, who said that FCC limits are “outdated” and threaten local journalism.

The FCC will get some support from the labor union NewsGuild-CWA and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Commerce Dems call for hearings on telecom mergers: On Tuesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats called on committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to hold hearings on the mergers of telecom giants announced earlier this year. House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Communications subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) asked that the panel examine the proposed $49 billion deal to combine AT&T and DirecTV and the $45 billion deal to combine Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Those deals, coupled with the rumored deal to combine Sprint and T-Mobile, “signal a trend towards consolidation in the communications market,” the lawmakers said in their letter. “We believe it is important that the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has exclusive jurisdiction over telecommunications policy and transactions in the communications sector, examine the impact these mergers may have on the public interest and hear testimony from opponents and supporters of these transactions.”

FBI head to appear before House panel: FBI Director James Comey will make his first appearance in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in what should be a wide-ranging session. On the tech side, Comey will likely be pressed about the agency’s work to combat cyber crimes and the surveillance programs it operates, which have raised concerns from privacy advocates.

When he was in the Senate last month, for instance, Comey talked about a previous comment that drug policies were making it tough to hire cybersecurity experts and said that people were right to fear government overreach.

Rockefeller worried about telecom companies under NSA reforms: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Tuesday that he is worried current National Security Agency (NSA) reforms will overburden small telecom companies that can’t meet the data collection and storage demands currently being met by the intelligence community. The USA Freedom Act, which passed the House last month and is aimed at curbing the NSA’s sweeping surveillance programs, would keep data about phone calls in the hands of the phone companies rather than the government.

Rockefeller pointed to the “hundreds” of telecom companies that don’t have the resources of industry giants AT&T and Verizon. “They’re all going to have to do what’s being required of AT&T and Verizon... They won’t be able to,” which will hurt U.S. intelligence activities, he said.

“It’s staggering to me that they would take the highly trained 22 specialists at the NSA and trade them in for the telephone companies,” he said.

 

ON TAP:

Georgetown University is holding an event with House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) starting at 8:30 a.m.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies in the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m.

At the same time, Comey’s hearing gets underway in the House.

The House Commerce subcommittee session gets going at 10:30.

The Aspen Institute is getting together officials from Netflix and AT&T to talk about net neutrality at 2 p.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill Tuesday to reauthorize the law governing the satellite television marketplace.

Former Vice President Al Gore defended government leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday, refusing to label him a traitor and calling him more of a hero.

Technology advocacy groups are launching a new ad campaign to push House Republicans to take up immigration reform this year.

A coalition of media advocacy groups is pressing lawmakers to investigate the billing practices of cable and satellite companies.

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted a contractor for oil company BP the right to fly the first approved commercial drone flights in the United States.