Overnight Tech: AT&T CEO denies pressure to sell CNN in merger talks | Franken wants net neutrality rules for tech companies | Critics fear impact of 'Amazon amendment'

Overnight Tech: AT&T CEO denies pressure to sell CNN in merger talks | Franken wants net neutrality rules for tech companies | Critics fear impact of 'Amazon amendment'
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LATEST ON AT&T, TIME WARNER MERGER: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on Thursday denied reports that the Justice Department wanted CNN sold as a condition for allowing a merger between the telecom giant and Time Warner.

"First and foremost, irrespective of what you read yesterday, I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN. Period," Stephenson said at The New York Times' Dealbook Conference.

"And likewise, I have never offered to sell CNN," he continued, adding that the news network is at the center of his company's business strategy.


"I don't even know who in the DOJ is saying these things," said Stephenson.

Justice Department sources told The Hill and other outlets on Wednesday that AT&T had offered to sell CNN from the combined company to get the merger approved by regulators. Other outlets reported that the Justice Department had demanded the sale.

Stephenson's comments on Thursday added a third version of what transpired during a meeting on Monday between AT&T and the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Aside from the denial of the conflicting reports that emerged Wednesday, all he would offer is that the meeting was "professional" and that he was trying to get to know Makan Delrahim, the newly installed head of the division.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Delrahim's team was preparing a lawsuit to block the merger if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement. Stephenson said on Thursday that AT&T is hoping to settle with the Justice Department soon but is prepared to go to court in order to get the deal through.

"We're prepared to litigate now," he said.

Read more here.


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Join The Hill on Tuesday, November 14, for Digitalizing Infrastructure: Building a Smart Future featuring Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSecond GOP senator to quarantine after exposure to coronavirus GOP senator to quarantine after coronavirus exposure Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes MORE (R-W.Va.) and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands). Topics of conversation will include the integration of smart technology into new and existing infrastructure, changing investment strategies, and regulatory challenges. RSVP Here


CRITICS FIGHT 'AMAZON AMENDMENT': Lawmakers put the finishing touches this week on military funding legislation that contains a provision that stands to significantly benefit Amazon.

The amendment, Section 801 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would help Amazon establish a tight grip on the lucrative, $53 billion government acquisitions market, experts say.  

The provision, dubbed the "Amazon amendment" by experts, according to an article in The Intercept, would allow for the creation of an online portal that government employees could use to purchase everyday items such as office supplies or furniture.

This government-only version of Amazon, which could potentially include a few other websites, would give participating companies direct access to the $53 billion market for government acquisitions of commercial products.

"It hands an enormous amount of power over to Amazon," said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research group that advocates for local businesses.

Mitchell said that the provision could allow Amazon to gain a monopoly or duopoly on the profitable world of commercial government purchases, leaving smaller businesses behind and further consolidating the behemoth tech firm's power.

Read more here.


FRANKEN WANTS NET NEUTRALITY FOR INTERNET PLATFORMS: Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPeterson faces fight of his career in deep-red Minnesota district Getting tight — the psychology of cancel culture Tina Smith wins Democratic Senate primary in Minnesota MORE (D-Minn.) slammed big tech firms on Wednesday, saying that they should be held to the same style of net neutrality rules as major telecommunications companies.

"Not only do they guide what we see, read and buy on a regular basis, but there dominance specifically in the market of information now requires that we consider their role in the integrity of our democracy," Franken said, criticizing firms like Twitter, Facebook and Google for their inability to stop foreign actors from manipulating their platforms to meddle in elections.

Franken, who has been critical on antitrust matters regarding major telecommunications firms like AT&T and Time Warner said during an event held by the think tank Open Markets Institute, that web firms should be held to the same standards with net neutrality-styled provisions.

Read more here.


GOOGLE WANTS NEW RULES FOR INTERNET POLITICAL ADS: Google said on Thursday that it would support the Federal Election Commission (FEC) implementing new disclosure rules for online political ads.

In a filing submitted to the FEC, the internet giant argued that advertisers and online platforms could use clearer regulations for what information needs to be disclosed on political ads and what types of ads qualify for the disclosures.

"While the majority of advertisers placing election-related ads on Google now self-impose some form of disclaimer on their ads, advertisers still lack the much needed regulatory framework that will let them know whether the disclaimers they're using on today's ads meet the Commission's requirements," the filing reads.

Read more here.


HOUSE DEMS PUSH FOR TOUGHER FEC RULES FOR ONLINE ADS: House Democrats are also pushing the government's election agency to take more aggressive action in curbing foreign influence in U.S. elections.

Eighteen members of Congress led by Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) in a letter urged the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to treat political advertisements on social media platforms in the same way that it treats TV or radio ads.

Sarbanes and company argued that if such measures in place, Russian manipulation of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and Google's ad platforms, to meddle in the U.S. election likely would not have happened.

Read more here.


SEAN PARKER BLASTS FACEBOOK: Early Facebook adviser Sean Parker on Wednesday slammed the company he played a pivotal role in building.

Parker described himself as "something of a conscientious objector" to social media in an interview with Axios, railing against the company for being designed to exploit "a vulnerability in human psychology."

"That thought process was really all about 'how do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'" Parker said.

Read more here.


TWITTER HOLDING OFF ON VERIFICATIONS: Twitter announced on Thursday that it would temporarily stop verifying users out of concern over how its verification process is interpreted.

"Verification was meant to authenticate identity and voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance," the company tweeted on Thursday. "We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it."

The decision comes less than one day after outcry over Twitter's decision to verify Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who organized the "Unite The Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned violent in August.

Read more here.


DEFENSE BILL INCLUDES IT MODERNIZATION: The compromise defense policy bill finalized this week includes a key provision that would help federal agencies replace outdated information technology with newer, more secure systems.

The measure, spearheaded by Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHillicon Valley: Oracle confirms deal with TikTok to be 'trusted technology provider' | QAnon spreads across globe, shadowing COVID-19 | VA hit by data breach impacting 46,000 veterans House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts MORE (R-Texas) in the House, was included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) hammered out by House and Senate negotiators, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed.

The provision would create a $500 million modernization fund for agencies to use to modernize their IT systems, in addition to working capital funds to help agencies transition to newer technology.

Read more here.



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