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OVERNIGHT TECH: Comcast critics crow as merger crumbles

THE LEDE: Opponents of the proposed Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable claimed a "huge victory" after reports Thursday that the deal was being scrapped.

"If reports of the collapse of the deal are true, it would be a huge victory for American consumers," said Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTina Smith and Jason Lewis tied in Minnesota Ted Cruz mocks Al Franken over 'I Hate Ted Cruz Pint Glass' GOP Senate candidate says Trump, Republicans will surprise in Minnesota MORE (D-Minn.), who has been Congress's most outspoken critic of the merger. He said he had opposed the deal from the start and was "glad that over the last 15 months, more and more people have come to see it the way I do." Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief says congressional progressives looking to become stronger force in 2021 Obama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Americans have a choice: Socialized medicine or health care freedom MORE (I-Vt.) said the deal's demise was "good news for American consumers" because the consolidation would have been "extremely dangerous." Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) similarly called it a "major victory for consumers."

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Congressional crowing came before Comcast had formally confirmed the news, which could come as early as Friday.

Thursday's reports about Comcast's plans to walk away from the deal came after regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice raised concerns about the merger, which would combine the nation's two largest cable companies. FCC staffers had reportedly decided to send the matter to a hearing -- which was seen as an effective death sentence -- and Justice Department staffers had similarly settled on recommending that the government file a lawsuit to kill the deal.

Stock for both companies plummeted in late afternoon trading, on the heels of the news. Shares for both companies were down more than 1 percent. The companies had decided not to institute a breakup fee as part of their deal, meaning that there won't be a financial penalty for calling it quits.

But critics aren't quite ready to rest on their laurels. The online advocacy group Fight for the Future encouraged supporters to keep contacting the FCC to "make sure it happens." 

HOUSE BILL TAKES AIM AT BROADCASTERS: Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Twitter CEO next week Government efforts to 'fix' social media bias overlooks the destruction of our discourse MORE (R-Tenn.) reintroduced legislation that would nudge broadcasters to pay royalties to musicians for songs played on the radio. Many times broadcasters own both radio and TV stations. On TV, broadcasters can charge cable and satellite providers to carry their broadcasts. However, the lawmakers think it is hypocritical that those same broadcasters do not pay royalty fees to musicians when they play songs on the radio. The legislation would tie the two issues together, requiring broadcasters to pay music royalty fees if their TV operation wants to charge cable and satellite providers to carry their stations. The legislation would also ban the FCC from requiring radio chips in mobile devices.

The legislation won support from trade groups such as the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, which said it would remove "the threat of mandating outdated technology be built into mobile devices."

Broadcasters 'respectfully' oppose: The National Association of Broadcasters "respectfully opposes" the Eshoo-Blackburn bill, arguing that the free radio play helps labels and musicians by providing "enormous promotional value." As the group has noted after similar legislation was introduced, 166 House members and 13 senators have sponsored legislation to oppose any additional royalty fees on broadcasters.  

FCC OFFICE PLAN HITS HOUSE TROUBLES: Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee want more information about the FCC's plan to close 16 of its 24 field offices around the country. The plan "raises significant challenges and concerns" and "appears to ignore" the impact on its mission, GOP leaders told Chairman Tom Wheeler in a letter on Thursday. Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) demanded to see all analyses and communications about the proposal by May 7. The commission has previously said that closing the offices would lead to substantial savings for the American taxpayer.  

NET NEUTRALITY COURT PREVIEW: The U.S. Telecom Association on Thursday released an early draft of the issues it will be raising in its court challenge of the FCC's new net neutrality rules. The trade group will ask the court if reclassification of broadband access or its new authority over interconnection deals violates the Communications Act, the First Amendment or the Fifth Amendment; whether the FCC has the authority to implement its broad conduct standard; and whether the agency gave proper notice of the rules under the Administrative Procedure Act. A half dozen other organizations have also filed suit.

FCC SHOULD BE 'SERIOUSLY TROUBLED' BY GAO: Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said his agency should be "seriously troubled" by a Government Accountability Office report that called for an evaluation of the efficiency of the Lifeline program, which helps offer subsidized phone service for low-income individuals. "As I have suggested before, the current program is inefficient, costly, and in serious need of review," he said in a statement.

STAFF CHANGES AT FCC: Julie Veach, the head of the FCC's wireline competition bureau, is leaving the agency on May 22, the commission said in a statement. She will be replaced by current deputy bureau chief Matt DelNero, whom Chairman Wheeler said "has been a key player in a series of major policy initiatives" since he came to the agency last year. Kris Monteith -- the current acting chief of the consumer and governmental affairs bureau -- will take DelNero's spot as the bureau's No. 2, and Alison Kutler will take Monteith's spot.   

 

ON TAP:

Starting at 9 a.m., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersConservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform Race heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Hillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video MORE (R-Wash.), Karen BassKaren Ruth BassPorter raises .2 million in third quarter Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police MORE (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will appear at the Creativity Conference, which is being hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft and ABC News.  

At noon, the Save Wireless Choice coalition -- which is backed by advocacy groups and telecom companies aside from AT&T and Verizon -- is holding a Capitol Hill luncheon on next year's spectrum auction.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The FCC should review the efficiency of its Lifeline program that helps offer phone service to low-income Americans, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Twitter is updating its internal policy to make clear that users can report people who appear to be promoting terrorist activity, after lawmakers on Capitol Hill raised concerns.

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessRace heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it MORE (R-Texas) is filing legislation to prohibit the use of weaponized drones under new rules for non-military flights being considered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Technology advocates warn that an amendment added to the anti-human-trafficking bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday has the potential to harm social media sites and others that host classified ads.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul rips 'leftwing media' for focusing on COVID-19 cases: 'Mortality rates are plummeting' Rand Paul suggests restaurants should hire COVID-19 survivors as servers during pandemic Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 MORE has harsh words for defenders of the National Security Agency (NSA), who he said on Wednesday would leave the nation's founders "mortified."

 

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