Overnight Technology

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 Franken (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 Sanders (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.”

{mosads}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 Blackburn (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.   



Starting at 9 a.m., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Karen Bass (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.



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 Burgess (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 Paul has harsh words for defenders of the National Security Agency (NSA), who he said on Wednesday would leave the nation’s founders “mortified.”


Please send tips and comments to Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com  and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@jmhattem

Tags Al Franken Bernie Sanders Cathy McMorris Rodgers Comcast Federal Communications Commission Karen Bass Marsha Blackburn Michael Burgess Rand Paul Richard Blumenthal Time Warner Cable

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