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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Announces Plan to Eliminate Net Neutrality

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission unveiled plans on Tuesday to repeal landmark 2015 rules that prohibited internet service providers from impeding consumer access to web content in a move that promises to recast the digital landscape.

FCC chief Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump in January, said the commission will vote at a Dec. 14 meeting on his plan to rescind the so-called Net Neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama that treated internet service providers like public utilities.

The rules barred broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to content or charging consumers more for certain content. They were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband service providers from favoring their own content.

The action marks a victory for big internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications that opposed the rules and gives them sweeping powers to decide what web content consumers can get and at what price.

It represents a setback for Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook, which had urged Pai not to rescind the rules.

With three Republican and two Democratic commissioners, the move is all but certain to be approved. Trump, a Republican, expressed his opposition to Net Neutrality in 2014 before the regulations were even implemented, calling it a “power grab” by Obama.

Pai said his proposal would prevent state and local governments from creating their own Net Neutrality rules because internet service is “inherently an interstate service.” The preemption is most likely to handcuff Democratic-governed states and localities that could have considered their own plans to protect consumers’ equal access to internet content.

“The FCC will no longer be in the business of micromanaging business models and preemptively prohibiting services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive,” Pai said in an interview, adding that the Obama administration had sought to pick winners and losers and exercised “heavy-handed” regulation of the internet.

“We should simply set rules of the road that let companies of all kinds in every sector compete and let consumers decide who wins and loses,” Pai added.

Tom Wheeler, who headed the FCC under Obama and advocated for the Net Neutrality rules, called the planned repeal “a shameful sham and sellout. Even for this FCC and its leadership, this proposal raises hypocrisy to new heights.”

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have said that repealing the rules could lead to billions of dollars in additional broadband investment and eliminate the possibility that a future presidential administration could regulate internet pricing.

‘HEAVY COSTS’

Pelosi: FCC move will hurt consumers and chill competition.

Verizon said it believed the FCC “will reinstate a framework that protects consumers’ access to the open internet, without forcing them to bear the heavy costs from unnecessary regulation.”

The Internet Association, representing major technology firms including Alphabet and Facebook, said Pai’s proposal “represents the end of Net Neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans. This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline Net Neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet.”

Pai’s proposal would require internet service providers to disclose whether they allow blocking or slowing down of consumer web access or permit so-called internet fast lanes to facilitate a practice called paid prioritization of charging for certain content. Such disclosure will make it easier for another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to act against internet service providers that fail to disclose such conduct to consumers, Pai said.

A U.S. appeals court last year upheld the legality of the Net Neutrality regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit led by telecommunications industry trade association US Telecom.

The group praised Pai’s decision to remove “antiquated, restrictive regulations” to “pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades.”

The FCC’s repeal is certain to draw a legal challenge from advocates of Net Neutrality.

Nancy Pelosi, the top U.S. House of Representatives Democrat, said the FCC move would hurt consumers and chill competition, saying the agency “has launched an all-out assault on the entrepreneurship, innovation and competition at the heart of the internet.”

Republican Senator John Thune said Pai’s plan was an improvement over the Obama rules but that “the only way to create long-term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law.”

The planned repeal represents the latest example of a legacy achievement of Obama being erased since Trump took office in January. Trump has abandoned international trade deals, the landmark Paris climate accord and environmental protections, taken aim at the Iran nuclear accord and closer relations with Cuba, and sought repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Pai, who has moved quickly to undo numerous regulatory actions since becoming FCC chairman, is pushing a broad deregulatory agenda. Pai said he had not shared his plans on the rollback with the White House in advance or been directed to undo Net Neutrality by White House officials.

The FCC under Obama regulated internet service providers like public utilities under a section of federal law that gave the agency sweeping oversight over the conduct of these companies.

Language in the new proposal would give the FCC significantly less authority to oversee the web. The FCC granted initial approval to Pai’s plan in May, but had left open many key questions including whether to retain any legal requirements limiting internet providers conduct.

His plan also would eliminate the “internet conduct standard,” which gave the FCC far-reaching discretion to prohibit internet service provider practices deemed to violate a list of factors and sought to address future discriminatory conduct.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham

AT&T – Time Warner Merger Sails Into Rough Waters Over CNN

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. antitrust regulators believe that AT&T Inc’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc would raise costs for rival entertainment distributors and stifle innovation, a Department of Justice official told Reuters on Thursday.

Allaying those concerns is the rationale for the Justice Department’s demand that AT&T sell assets in order for the deal to be approved, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department wants AT&T to sell its DirecTV unit or sell Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes news company CNN, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

AT&T has signaled it would not agree to sell DirecTV, which it acquired for $49 billion in 2015, leaving CNN and other cable TV assets as the main sticking point in negotiations between the Justice Department and AT&T.

The antitrust regulator is worried the combined company could make it harder for rivals to deliver content to consumers using new technologies, the official said. AT&T has said it wants to disrupt “entrenched pay TV models.”

The Justice Department’s desire for asset sales has raised concerns about political influence on the $85.4 billion deal, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent criticism of CNN. As a candidate, Trump vowed to block the deal shortly after it was announced in October 2016, but has not addressed the issue publicly as president.

The head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, said in a statement late on Thursday that he has “never been instructed by the White House” on the AT&T deal.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said in a separate statement that Trump “did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”

AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson defended the merger at a New York City media conference on Thursday, and said he did not want to sell CNN.

The company has opposed divesting assets and has told the government it is willing to fight in court to win approval, sources said on Wednesday.

The deal is opposed by an array of rivals and consumer groups worried that it would give the combined company too much power. Opponents are pushing for conditions that would limit AT&T’s ability to charge media rivals higher prices to carry Time Warner content.

Shares of Time Warner were down slightly in afternoon trading at $88.35. AT&T shares rose 2 percent to $34.09.

Discovery Builds Leveraging Power in Scripps Networks Acquisition

Phillip Dampier July 31, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Reuters No Comments

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Discovery Communications Inc is acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive Inc for $11.9 billion in a deal expected to boost the company’s negotiating leverage as it seeks new audiences.

The acquisition, announced on Monday, brings together Scripps’ largely female-focused lifestyle channels such as HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network with Discovery’s Animal Planet and Discovery Channel, whose viewers are primarily male.

Despite expectations of $350 million in total cost synergies, many analysts questioned how the combined company would compete long term as viewers cut cords to cable providers and as advertising and ratings decline.

Discovery shares ended regular trading down 8.2 percent at $24.60 while those of Scripps finished up 0.6 percent at $87.41.

Discovery is paying 70 percent cash and 30 percent stock for Scripps. The total price of the deal is $14.6 billion including debt.

“While we believe the two companies are likely better positioned together, rather than apart, the longer-term issues facing the industry still remain,” wrote John Janedis, an analyst at Jefferies, in a note on Monday.

Both Discovery and Scripps reported quarterly earnings on Monday that reflected the challenges facing U.S. media companies. Scripps missed its second quarter ad guidance and lowered its full-year estimates, and Discovery reported flat advertising and lower affiliate revenue.

U.S. television networks and cable providers are under pressure as more viewers watch shows and movies on phones and tablets. There is also increased competition for viewers from streaming services such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Five of the largest U.S. pay TV providers posted subscriber losses during the second quarter.

The combined company’s larger programming slate might give it an advantage in negotiations for inclusion in skinny bundles, or economy-priced cable packages that offer fewer channels than a standard contract.

After the merger, the company will offer 300,000 hours of content and capture about a 20 percent share of ad-supported cable audiences in the United States, Discovery said on an analyst call Monday morning.

“The transaction supports and accelerates Discovery’s pivot from a linear TV-only company to a leading content provider across all screens and services around the world,” David Zaslav, Discovery’s chief executive, told investors.

The combined company would also have more muscle in negotiations with cable and other distributors when contracts come up for renewal, executives said.

By adding Scripps programming, Discovery could also launch its own “skinny bundle” of networks at a low cost, executives said.

The combined company would be home to five of the top cable networks for women with more than a 20 percent share of women prime-time viewers in the United States, according to Discovery.

Discovery will evaluate the Scripps channels, as it has its own, to figure out if any could be web-based, Zaslav said on the call.

Scripps has been considered a takeover target since the Scripps family trust, which controlled the company, was dissolved five years ago.

Under the terms of the deal, Scripps CEO Ken Lowe would join the board of the combined company.

The deal requires regulatory and shareholder approvals. Major shareholders including cable magnate John Malone, Advance/Newhouse Programming Partnership and members of the Scripps family, support the deal, the companies said.

Discovery had tried unsuccessfully twice before to buy Scripps. Discovery outbid Viacom Inc for Scripps, Reuters reported first last week.

Guggenheim Securities and Goldman Sachs served as financial advisers to Discovery. Allen & Co LLC and J.P. Morgan Securities served as financial advisers to Scripps.

Evercore Group served as financial adviser to the Scripps family.

Reporting by: Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Steve Orlofsky

Republican-Dominated FCC Votes 2-1 to Advance Repeal of Net Neutrality

Phillip Dampier May 18, 2017 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters 1 Comment

FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

(Reuters) The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 on Thursday to advance a Republican plan to reverse the Obama administration’s 2015 “Net Neutrality” order.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has proposed the commission repeal the rules that reclassified internet service providers as if they were utilities. He thinks the open internet rules by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, were unnecessary and harm jobs and investment.

“We propose to repeal utility-style regulation,” Pai said Thursday. “The evidence so far strongly suggests that this is the right way to go.”

The public will have until mid-August to offer comments before the FCC votes on a final plan.

Pai wants public input on whether the FCC has the authority or should keep its “bright line” rules barring internet companies from blocking, throttling or giving “fast lanes” to some websites. He has not committed to retaining any rules, but said he favors an “open internet.”

Pai said he would make a final proposal public before a final vote and said the FCC will conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted against the plan, said the end game appears to be an internet without FCC regulatory oversight. She said the proposal “jeopardizes the ability of the open internet to function tomorrow, as it does today.”

The FCC, which has already received more than 1 million comments, is also seeking comment on whether U.S. states should be able to set their own broadband privacy or other regulations.

Facebook, Alphabet Inc, and others back Net Neutrality rules, saying they guarantee equal access to the internet.

Broadband providers AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications, and Comcast oppose the 2015 order, saying it would discourage investment and innovation.

Internet providers insist they will not engage in blocking or throttling even in the absence of rules, but critics are skeptical.

Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, said “it will take millions of people standing up, just like they did before, to say that the internet needs to stay free and open. That’s what it will take to win.”

Comcast, Charter Communications, and Altice USA signed an advertisement Wednesday saying they are “committed to an open internet that gives you the freedom to be in charge of your online experience…. We do not block, throttle or otherwise impair your online activity.”

USTelecom, an industry trade group, said the FCC “is moving the conversation beyond the merits of Net Neutrality to how best to safeguard this universally embraced value with a modern, constructive policy framework.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)

FCC’s Ajit Pai Proposes Eliminating Net Neutrality Rules; Claims Government is ‘Controlling Internet’

Phillip Dampier April 27, 2017 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters 5 Comments

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announces his opposition to Net Neutrality at a FreedomWorks-sponsored event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed overturning the landmark 2015 Obama-era Net Neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to certain internet services over others.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, named by President Donald Trump in January, said at a speech in Washington he wants to reverse rules that boosted government regulatory powers over internet service providers. Proponents who fought to get the rules passed said his proposal would set off a fierce political battle over the future of the internet regulation.

The rules, which the FCC put in place in 2015 under former President Barack Obama, prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a “fast lane,” to certain internet services over others.

The rules reclassified internet service providers much like utilities. They were favored by websites who said they would guarantee equal access to the internet to all but opposed by internet service providers, who said they could eventually result in rate regulation, inhibit innovation and make it harder to manage traffic. Pai said he believed the rules depressed investment by internet providers and cost jobs.

“Do we want the government to control the internet? Or do we want to embrace the light-touch approach” in place since 1996 until revised in 2015, he asked.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules last year. The Internet Association, a group representing Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc, and others, said the rules were working and that reversing them “will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online.”

Pai said his proposal will face an initial vote on May 18 but he would not seek to finalize a reversal of the Obama rules until the FCC takes public comment, which could take several months.

Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said the rules “took internet policy down into a dark and horrible abyss” and said the FCC will “expunge Net Neutrality regulations from the internet.”

Internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, and Comcast Corp have argued that the Net Neutrality rules have made investment in additional capacity less likely. Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts said Pai’s proposal “creates an environment where we can have a fresh constructive dialogue.”

Democratic Senator Edward Markey predicted Pai’s plan to overturn the rules would face a “tsunami of resistance.”

Democrats and advocates of the rules called for a massive public outcry to preserve them. In 2014, comedian John Oliver in his HBO show owned by Time Warner Inc., helped galvanize support for Net Neutrality.

“I am confident that the millions of Americans who weighed in with the FCC in support of the open internet order will once again make their voices heard to demonstrate how wrongheaded this approach is,” said Senate Democrat Leader Charles Schumer.

Republicans said Democrats should work with them to pass a legislative fix to set internet rules. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised Pai for working to reverse “the Obama Administration’s eight-year regulatory assault on all aspects of our economy.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown, Diane Craft and David Gregorio)

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