Overnight Tech: FCC Republican votes 'no' on Charter-Time Warner Cable merger

LEDE: Senior Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai voted against approving the Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House Networks merger this afternoon in protest of conditions Chairman Tom Wheeler has put on the deal.

"The FCC's merger review process is badly broken," a Pai spokesperson told The Hill. "Chairman Wheeler's order isn't about competition, competition, competition; it's about regulation, regulation, regulation," the spokesperson added. "It's about imposing conditions that have nothing to do with the merits of this transaction. It's about the government micromanaging the internet economy."

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It's an escalation of a criticism Pai also leveled in his partial dissent from the order approving AT&T's purchase of DirecTV. "Some conditions are nothing more than policymaking through the merger review process," he said then. But this time, he's voting against not only the conditions but the underlying deal.

All of that said: It seems likely that the merger will go through. Several outlets have reported that Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly have both signed on, though O'Rielly is said to be dissenting in part.

A Charter spokesperson declined to comment and an FCC spokesperson directed us to Wheeler's statement announcing his support for the deal. Read our initial scoop on Pai's vote here.

A MERGER CRITIC REACTS: Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said that "it's literally unbelievable that Commissioner Pai believes conditions supposed to preserve the viability of online video competition have nothing to do with a merger between giant cable TV and broadband conglomerates."

"ISPs provide the only means of accessing the content from their video competition," he said. "That's tremendous power to grant any company, and that's one reason this merger strengthening their gatekeeper power is such a bad idea."

WHAT ABOUT CLYBURN? An email to a staffer with the Democratic commissioner asking about her plans on the deal went unanswered. Clyburn and Rosenworcel have both been lobbied in recent days by skeptics of the deal who want a requirement that the post-merger entity offer standalone broadband and a stricter condition on media diversity.

THE PHONE CALL THAT PRECEDED THE VOTE: Charter CEO Tom Rutledge talked by phone with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai a day before the Republican commissioner voted against a deal to approve the company's merger with Time Warner Cable. Pai's vote did not signal opposition to the merger itself, but the conditions the FCC imposed on the companies.

A LAWMAKER'S EDITING WIN ON WIKIPEDIA: The office of Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) on Thursday fought to change negative portions of the congressman's Wikipedia page -- and won. The top paragraph of the congressman's page now says, "DesJarlais's career has attracted media attention for his personal scandals including extra marital affairs and pressured abortions." While not glowing, the congressman's office successfully fought to remove a reference to "prescription drug malpractice," which his office described as "completely inaccurate." The reference likely stems from court transcripts in which he allegedly prescribed drugs to a patient with whom he also had an affair. The Wikipedia community closely tracks anonymous edits stemming from IP addresses in Congress. But in this rare case, the edit came from a staffer who identified himself as a member of the congressman's team.

SPOTIFY PUSHES OTHERS ON PARENTAL LEAVE: Spotify published a blog on the Department of Labor's website touting its long parental-leave policy that it announced last year. The company's "Swedish-inspired work culture" allows for six months of parental leave and encourages people to "take the full time off." In Thursday's blog, it encouraged other companies to create similar policies.

GROUP HITS AIRBNB ON TRANSPARENCY: The Electronic Frontier Foundation released their annual report on how big tech companies treat their customers' data when the government comes calling, with a special focus this year on on-demand economy companies. Most notable was Airbnb's relatively low score, with the home-sharing company getting only three out of a possible six stars. They missed on three criteria: they don't publically require a warrant for future location data, don't publish a transparency report and do not pledge in hard terms to tell users about requests from the government for data, according to EFF. "We take protecting our community's privacy seriously and look forward to continuing to work with EFF and other organizations on a range of important issues," said Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas in an email. Uber and Lyft both got perfect scores. TaskRabbit got zero out of six stars, as did several other services.

 

ON TAP:

At noon, the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus is holding a talk on the "challenges of combating online radicalization."

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

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Netflix is now allowing users to increase the picture quality of its streaming video on smartphones and tablets -- a reaction to recent criticism that the company has been throttling video streaming speeds over mobile networks.

Sixty members of Congress sent a letter Thursday to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler that criticizes his proposal to open up the market for set-top boxes used to watch television on the grounds it could hurt rural communities.

Uber is dismissing as "meritless" allegations that it broke consumer protection laws by sending texts urging customers to vote for a ballot measure it is backing.

Trade groups that represent some of America's most powerful tech companies are pushing the presidential candidates to pay attention to a slate of issues that matter to them, including limiting government access, user data and adopting trade deals.

 

Please send tips and comments to David McCabe, dmccabe@thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

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