Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: FCC formally asked to block AT&T-DirecTV merger

THE LEDE: Critics of AT&T’s proposed $49 billion merger with DirecTV filed formal comments with the Federal Communications Commission to block the plan on Tuesday.

Public Knowledge and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance told the agency in a petition that the merger would be bad for consumers, especially against the backdrop of other media deals such as Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable. “Companies may think they need greater scale to enter new markets or keep up with their rivals. But unless they can show how this would benefit consumers, it is immaterial,” they wrote. “If anything, the FCC should be more skeptical of mergers that come in waves, since in the aggregate consumers suffer from a more highly concentrated, centralized marketplace, with fewer choices, homogenous offerings and increased likelihood of coordinated effects.”

{mosads}If it did allow the deal to go through, the public interest groups called for tough conditions that are closely monitored and verifiable. For instance, the agency should make sure that TV prices don’t unfairly rise faster than those at other companies, they said, and should impose net neutrality rules on the company so that it cannot block or slow access to particular websites. 

The National Association of Broadcasters offered more measured concerns and urged the FCC to impose conditions to boost local television content. For instance, DirecTV should be required to offer local broadcast stations in all the 210 markets where it operated, the broadcaster group said. 

The companies have repeatedly made their case that the deal is necessary in order to keep up with consumer demand. The deal would greatly expand AT&T’s ability to offer television service, it has said, and would allow DirecTV to become a broadband Internet provider. The first round of comments ends at midnight. The next window ends on Oct. 16.

Net neutrality heads to Capitol Hill: Lawmakers will have a chance to weigh in on the FCC’s net neutrality proposal in a couple different forums on Wednesday. Most prominently, the Senate Judiciary Committee will probe the issue in a morning hearing with former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, Center for Democracy and Technology President Nuala O’Connor and others.

In his opening remarks, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will point to net neutrality as an economic issue. “It matters because the Internet is an equalizer that can help break cycles of unemployment and poverty,” he will say, according to an excerpt shared by his office. “It matters because the online world is the ultimate tool for free expression and democracy.”

“Allowing the Internet to become a two-tiered system would destroy everything that has made it one of the greatest innovations in human history,” he will add. “The FCC must act in a meaningful way to protect its openness.”

In an op-ed in The Hill on Tuesday, Leahy and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) — with whom he introduced a bill to ban deals to speed up online access to some websites — called for a ban on those “fast lanes,” more formally known as “paid prioritization” agreements.

Dems, Web companies to urge reclassification: Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) will join executives from Etsy, Kickstarter, Imgur and other Web companies in a press conference to urge the FCC to enact tough rules on Internet service providers by reclassifying broadband as a “telecommunications service,” instead of an “information service.”

Wheeler heads to House panel: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is scheduled to testify at an afternoon hearing in the House Small Business Committee. The session is focused on whether or not the FCC is “responding to the needs of small business and rural America,” but his proposed net neutrality rules are sure to come up in Wheeler’s first grilling since the public comment period closed this month, after 3.7 million responses flooded the agency.

Ahead of the session, committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) called congressional oversight of the FCC “paramount, so that small firms fostering innovative technologies and small business end-users benefit by the FCC’s policies.”

House subcommittee chairman to warn that money won’t fix FCC flaws: Increasing the FCC’s budget won’t fix its internal problems, House Commerce subcommittee on Communications Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) will say at the top of Wednesday’s hearing on the agency’s operations. The agency has spent more than $358 million over the last five years on its information technology he will note, according to prepared remarks shared with The Hill, yet the website is still notoriously clunky.

“Contrary to Chairman Wheeler’s oft-touted remedy, the solution to the commission’s woes is not simply to throw more money at the problem, but to use the money available to the commission more effectively,” he will say.

Boeing, SpaceX win NASA contract: Boeing and SpaceX won a NASA contract on Tuesday to build taxies to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station, which earned high marks from Congress. House Science and Space Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) called the announcement “a good day for our nation’s space program and for all Americans.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called it “an important step” by NASA.

The NASA plan will move the U.S. off of Russian technology and have the companies’ rockets bringing Americans to the International Space Station by the end of 2017.



The House Judiciary Committee takes a look at copyright law at 10 a.m.

The House Commerce subcommittee’s review of the FCC gets going at 10:15.

At 10:30, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins its hearing on net neutrality.

The Software and Information Industry Association is hosting an event on Capitol Hill to release a new study of the software industry at 11:30.

Sens. Franken and Markey hold their press conference at 12:30.

At 1 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee is marking up the Trade Secrets Protection Act.

That same time, the House Small Business Committee sits down for its hearing with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

The Senate Commerce Committee marks up legislation on television law and labeling requirements at 2:30.

At 4 p.m., the House Science Committee will consider a subpoena of former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.



The number of comments the Federal Communications Commission received on its plans for new net neutrality regulations more than doubled the agency’s previous record of 1.4 million. 

A handful of House Democrats on Tuesday introduced a bill to protect people who write reviews on Yelp or similar online review websites. 

Facebook and Google executives recently met with top officials at the FCC to discuss their opposition to “fast lanes” on the Internet. 

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) expressed skepticism Tuesday about federal regulatory efforts targeting mobile apps that come standard in many new vehicles. 

U.S. government demands for information from Google have risen by 250 percent over the last five years.


Please send tips and comments to Julian Hattem: jhattem@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@jmhattem

Tags Al Franken AT&T Deb Fischer Dianne Feinstein DirecTV Ed Markey Federal Communications Commission Patrick Leahy Sam Graves

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