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FCC Gives Quick Approval of TV Station Sale That Could Speed AT&T-Time Warner Merger

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Monday it approved Time Warner Inc’s sale of a broadcast station in Atlanta to Meredith Corp, a transaction that could help speed Time Warner’s planned merger with AT&T Inc.

In January, AT&T said it expected to be able to bypass the FCC in its planned $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner because it would not seek to transfer any significant Time Warner licenses.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said previously he did not plan to use the proposed TV station license transfer as a way to examine the AT&T-Time Warner merger. About a dozen senators had urged him to review the deal.

The station that Time Warner is selling, WPCH-TV, for $70 million, is its only FCC-regulated broadcast station. It has other, more minor FCC licenses.

Meredith has operated WPCH-TV for Time Warner since 2011. It was previously known as WTBS. The station is no longer considered a superstation in the United States, after Turner Broadcasting System created a new national network it dubbed TBS. WTBS changed its over-the-air call letters to WPCH, rebranded as “Peachtree TV,” and is considered an independent television station airing off-network sitcoms and dramas. However, WPCH is still widely seen across Canada, where it remains a “superstation” after Canadian regulators refused to allow Canadian providers to carry Turner’s TBS network.

WPCH-TV, an independent TV station in Atlanta, dubs itself as “Peachtree TV.”

In a statement on Monday, Meredith said it was pleased the FCC approved the application and that it anticipated “moving forward expeditiously to close this deal.”

The company said in February it expected to close on the sale by June 30 and that the deal would not have a material impact on its results.

Time Warner did not immediately comment on the FCC approval.

The Justice Department has to prove a proposed deal harms competition in order to block it. The FCC has broad leeway to block a merger it deems is not in the “public interest” and can impose additional conditions.

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told CNBC in February the Justice Department review was ongoing and he thought the deal would close by the end of the year.

“It’s a clean transaction,” he said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Stop the Cap!/Phillip Dampier.)

Republican-Controlled House Votes 215-205 to Repeal Internet Privacy Regulations

Phillip Dampier March 29, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters 5 Comments

U.S. House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House voted on Tuesday 215-205 to repeal regulations requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s Google or Facebook Inc.

The White House said earlier Tuesday that President Donald Trump strongly supports the repeal of the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in October under then-President Barack Obama.

Under the rules, internet providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.

Last week, the Senate voted 50-48 to reverse the rules in a win for AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc.

The White House in its statement said internet providers would need to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share certain information, but noted that websites are not required to get the same consent. “This results in rules that apply very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor,” the White House said.

Websites are governed by a less restrictive set of privacy rules overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai in a statement praised the decision of Congress to overturn “privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies.” Last week, Pai said consumers would have privacy protections even without the Obama internet provider rules, but critics say they will weaker.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the measure, said companies “should not be able to use and sell the sensitive data they collect from you without your permission.”

An Internet & Television Association statement called the repeal “an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently.”

One critic of the repeal, Craig Aaron, president of Free Press advocacy group, said major Silicon Valley companies shied away from the fight over the rules because they profit from consumer data.

“There are a lot of companies that are very concerned about drawing attention to themselves and being regulated on privacy issues, and are sitting this out in a way that they haven’t sat out previous privacy issues,” Aaron said.

Representative Michael Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Tuesday that Comcast could know his personal information because he looked up his mother’s medical condition and his purchase history. “Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the color?” Capuano asked. “They are going to sell it to the underwear companies.”

Comcast declined to comment.

Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said the rules “unfairly skews the market in favor” of websites that are free to collect data without consent.

Republican commissioners, including Pai, said in October that the rules would unfairly give websites like Facebook, Twitter Inc or Google the ability to harvest more data than internet service providers and thus further dominate digital advertising. The FCC earlier this month delayed the data rules from taking effect.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Additional reporting by David Ingram and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

Comcast Takes ‘XFINITY Instant TV’ Online Video Package Across National Footprint

The NBC and Comcast logo are displayed on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, formerly known as the GE building, in midtown Manhattan in New York July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Comcast Corp is planning to rebrand and expand a streaming video option for broadband subscribers who do not want to pay for a traditional cable package, sources told Reuters on Monday.

The service, dubbed Xfinity Instant TV, will be priced as low as $15 a month to roughly $40 a month, sources said. It will include major broadcast networks as well as sports channels like ESPN and Spanish language channels such as Telemundo and Univision.

Xfinity Instant TV is expected to be available in the third quarter to more than 50 million homes within Comcast’s footprint, which includes cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

The company is changing its video offerings to be more targeted as viewer habits evolve. Xfinity Instant TV will be aimed at high-speed Internet subscribers who cannot afford or do not want to pay for bigger cable bundles, sources said. The hope is that subscribers will eventually upgrade to Comcast’s X1 platform.

Comcast has already given a $15-a-month streaming video service known as Stream a trial run in Boston and Chicago, sources said. Xfinity Instant TV is a revamped version of that offering and will be rolled out nationwide in Comcast’s territories.

Other pay-TV providers including Dish Network Corp and AT&T Inc have started online streaming services for “cord cutting” consumers, or those who are dropping their cable packages for other options.

Comcast’s service is different in that it is limited to its territories and to its own broadband subscribers. It has yet to offer an over-the-top streaming service more broadly nationwide.

(Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by Bill Trott)

CenturyLink Buying Level 3 Communications for $24 Billion

Phillip Dampier October 31, 2016 CenturyLink, Competition, Reuters 1 Comment

centurylink(Reuters) – CenturyLink, Inc. said it would buy Level 3 Communications, Inc., in a deal valued at about $24 billion to expand its reach in the competitive market that provides communications services to business customers.

CenturyLink’s shares slumped 12.4 percent to $26.61 in afternoon trading on Monday, while shares of Level 3 surged 4.9 percent to $56.73.

The cash-and-stock deal, expected to close in the third quarter of 2017, comes as the companies struggle with a slowdown in their core operations and as they face telecommunications rivals like AT&T Inc., Comcast, and Verizon Communications Inc., who also offer internet and phone services to businesses.

CenturyLink aims to create a formidable enterprise telecom player as business clients seek more bandwidth and faster networks to move data traffic.

“We’ve become a much larger and more focused enterprise player,” CenturyLink Chief Executive Glen Post said in an interview after the deal was announced on Monday.

“Together with Level 3, we will have one of the most robust fiber network and high-speed data services companies in the world,” Post said separately in a statement.

Post, who has worked at CenturyLink since 1976, will lead the combined company, while Level 3 Chief Financial Officer Sunit Patel will be chief financial officer.

Analysts were concerned over the fact that CenturyLink will be using its shares to cover the purchase price, which they said would raise its debt-to-equity ratio.

“Our hangup on valuation stems from the fact that CenturyLink is using its shares to fund 60 percent of the purchase price,” Morningstar analyst Michael Hodel said in a research note.

Big Premium

The offer of about $66.50 per share represents a premium of 42 percent to Level 3’s close on Wednesday before reports surfaced on a potential pact between the two companies.

CenturyLink CEO and President Glen F. Post

CenturyLink CEO and President Glen F. Post

CenturyLink, which reported third-quarter earnings on Monday, forecast lower-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue of $4.28 billion-$4.34 billion, dragged by a decline in its wireline business. The company expects an adjusted profit of 53-59 cents per share for the quarter.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect revenue of $4.38 billion and earnings of 64 cents in the fourth quarter.

Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink, which provides telephone services mainly in rural areas, has been investing to grow its enterprise business and upgrade its networks in recent years. Level 3 has one of the most desirable global fiber networks and provides internet services to clients like Apple and Netflix.

Including debt, the deal is valued at about $34 billion and would result in cost savings of $975 million per year, CenturyLink executives said on a conference call with investors.

“These are two companies looking for scale and synergies in reaction to the struggles that both companies are facing in their core business to deliver on growth,” BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said in an email.

CenturyLink, which operates more than 55 data centers in North America, Europe and Asia and provides broadband, voice, video, data and managed services, has been exploring a sale of some of its data center assets. That sale process is underway, CenturyLink executives said on the call.

Colorado-based Level 3 narrowly avoided bankruptcy in the early 2000s and was helped by got a cash infusion of $500 million in 2002 from investors including Warren Buffett. It purchased enterprise company TW Telecom in 2014 for $5.65 billion.

It’s unlikely that the CenturyLink-Level 3 deal would face regulatory hurdles, analysts said.

The global enterprise market is “so crowded with competition, with more and more new entrants building fiber every day that we see little cause for concern by regulators,” Drexel Hamilton analyst Barry Sine said in a research note.

The breakup fee is of a “normal size” and will be divulged when CenturyLink files its merger agreement with regulators shortly, Post said without providing details.

(Reporting by Malathi Nayak in New York; Narottam Medhora and Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Lauren Hirsch in New York; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Bernadette Baum)

Federal Court Dismisses AT&T Throttling Lawsuit; AT&T Skates on a Loophole

Signage for an AT&T store is seen in New York October 29, 2014. AT&T Inc has made a bid for Yahoo Inc's internet business, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

Signage for an AT&T store is seen in New York October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal appeals court in California on Monday dismissed a U.S. government lawsuit that accused AT&T Inc  of deception for reducing internet speeds for customers with unlimited mobile data plans once their use exceeded certain levels.

The company, however, could still face a fine from the Federal Communications Commission regarding the slowdowns, also called “data throttling.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said it ordered a lower court to dismiss the data-throttling lawsuit, which was filed in 2014 by the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC sued AT&T on the grounds that the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier failed to inform consumers it would slow the speeds of heavy data users on unlimited plans. In some cases, data speeds were slowed by nearly 90 percent, the lawsuit said.

The FTC said the practice was deceptive and, as a result, barred under the Federal Trade Commission Act. AT&T argued that there was an exception for common carriers, and the appeals court agreed:

The panel reversed the district court’s denial of AT&T Mobility LLC’s motion to dismiss, and remanded for an entry of an order of dismissal in an action brought by the Federal Trade Commission under section 5 of the FTC Act that took issue with the adequacy of AT&T’s disclosures regarding its data throttling plan, under which AT&T intentionally reduced the data speed of its customers with unlimited mobile data plans.

Section 5 of the FTC Act contains an exemption for “common carriers subject to the Acts to regulate commerce.” 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(2). The panel held that AT&T was excluded from the coverage of section 5 of the FTC Act, and FTC’s claims could not be maintained. Specifically, the panel held that, based on the language and structure of the FTC Act, the common carrier exception was a status-based exemption and that AT&T, as a common carrier, was not covered by section 5.

Asked about the appeals court ruling, a spokesman for AT&T said: “We’re pleased with the decision.”

An FTC spokesman said the agency has not yet decided whether to appeal. “We are disappointed with the ruling and are considering our options for moving forward,” FTC spokesman Jay Mayfield wrote in an emailed comment.

The company, however, could face action from the FCC. In June 2015, the agency proposed a fine of $100 million for AT&T’s alleged failure to inform customers with unlimited data plans about the speed reductions. AT&T has contested that proposed fine.

(By Diane Bartz; Editing by Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis; Additional reporting by Stop the Cap!)

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