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Telecom Lobby Sues California to Block State’s Net Neutrality Law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four industry groups representing major internet providers and cable companies filed suit on Wednesday seeking to block California’s new law to mandate net neutrality rules.

The groups represent companies including AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc, Comcast Corp and Charter Communications Inc. The lawsuit came after the U.S. Justice Department on Sunday filed its own lawsuit to block the new law.

The lawsuit filed by the American Cable Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association and USTelecom – The Broadband Association, called California’s law a “classic example of unconstitutional state regulation” and urged the court to block it before it is set to take effect Jan. 1.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Sunday in a statement that the “the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.”

This marked the latest clash between the Trump administration and California, which have sparred over environmental, immigration and other hot-button issues.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission said in repealing the Obama-era rules that it was preempting states from setting their own rules governing internet access.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Sunday the Trump Administration was ignoring “millions of Americans who voiced strong support for net neutrality rules.”

The Trump administration rules were a win for internet providers but opposed by companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.

Under President Donald Trump, the FCC voted 3-2 in December along party lines to reverse rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

In August, 22 states and a coalition of trade groups representing major tech companies urged a federal appeals court to reinstate the rules. The states argue that the FCC cannot preempt state rule because it is not setting any limits on conduct by internet providers.

A federal judge on Monday set a Nov. 14 hearing in Sacramento on the Justice Department lawsuit.

AT&T Agrees to Pay $5.25 Million to Settle 911 Outages

Phillip Dampier July 2, 2018 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – AT&T will pay $5.25 million to settle a U.S. investigation after two outages in 2017 prevented about 15,000 callers from making emergency “911” calls, the company and a federal regulator said last week.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday AT&T had agreed to make changes to reduce the likelihood and impact of future 911 outages and improve notifying 911 call centers of outages.

AT&T said it has “taken steps to prevent this from happening again.”

The FCC said the 911 service outages were the result of planned network changes implemented by AT&T inadvertently interfering with the company’s routing of 911 calls.

The FCC said the March 2017 outage lasted about five hours, resulting in the failure of 911 calls from some 12,600 unique users, while the May 2017 outage lasted 47 minutes, resulting in 2,600 failed 911 calls.

The FCC said during the March outage the company failed to “quickly, clearly, and fully notify all affected 911 call centers.”

AT&T said it had cooperated with the review and agreed that “providing access to emergency 911 services is critically important.”

Several other carriers agreed to settlements after an April 2014 outage affected 11 million telephone users.

Verizon Communications agreed to a $3.4 million fine after a six-hour 911 outage in April 2014 that affected about 750,000 wireless consumers in nine California counties.

CenturyLink agreed to a $16 million settlement in the April 2014 outage.

The FCC said the outages at the carriers in April 2014 resulted in 6,600 missed 911 calls about domestic violence, assault, motor vehicle accidents, a heart attack, an overdose, and an intruder breaking into a residence.

The April 2014 outage was the result of a preventable software coding error at a call management center in Colorado, the FCC said.

In 2015, T Mobile US agreed to a $17.5 million settlement after two 911 service outages nationwide in August 2014. The separate but related outages lasted approximately three hours and affected almost all of T-Mobile’s then 50 million customers.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio

Comcast Bids $65 Billion in Cash to Acquire Fox Media Assets

(Reuters) – Comcast Corp offered $65 billion on Wednesday for 21st Century Fox’s media assets, emboldened by AT&T prevailing over the Trump administration’s attempt to block a merger with Time Warner, Inc..

The all-cash offer for Fox’s movie and TV studios and other assets including the X-Men franchise, opens a war with Walt Disney, which has bid $52 billion in stock. Comcast described the bid as 19 percent higher than Disney’s bid today. The transaction does not include the FOX television network, network owned-and-operated local television stations, or its cable news channels Fox News and Fox Business.

Comcast is expected to lead a wave of traditional media companies trying to combine distribution and production to compete with Netflix Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google. The younger firms produce content, sell it online directly to consumers and often offer lucrative targeted advertising.

AT&T won a court victory over skeptical U.S. antitrust regulators on Tuesday when a federal judge allowed it to buy Time Warner for $85 billion, which was widely taken as a green light for Comcast to submit its expected bid.

Comcast may face more difficulty than AT&T and other would-be acquirers, though, since Comcast already has its own TV and movie studios in the NBC Universal division, a content overlap AT&T-Time Warner lacked.

Shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney were barely changed in after-hours trade.

Comcast in a statement outlined an offer that was similar to Disney’s, including a commitment to the same divestitures. It said that it would agree to litigate any action taken by the Justice Department to block the deal.

In a letter to the Fox board, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said, “We are also highly confident that our proposed transaction will obtain all necessary regulatory approvals in a timely manner and that our transaction is as or more likely to receive regulatory approval than the Disney transaction.”

Justice Department lawyers who tried to stop AT&T’s $85 billion deal expect consumers will lose out as bigger companies raise prices, and some lawyers saw that as a concern in a Comcast-Fox deal which would put two movie studios and two major television brands under one roof.

“One cannot ignore the fact that there’s less independent content to go around,” after the AT&T deal, said Henry Su, an antitrust expert with Constantine Cannon LLP.

Still, the AT&T court fight gave Comcast valuable information about how to structure a Fox deal, said David Scharf, a litigation expert with Morrison Cohen.

“Any deal that’s coming down the pike that’s not baked yet knows the government’s playbook. They know what the government is concerned about,” he said. “They can learn how to structure a deal to make it more palatable.”

Disney itself has “surgically” structured a transaction that “might be doable,” avoiding Fox Broadcasting and big Fox sports channels, U.S. antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said last week.

Comcast may have a tough time winning over Fox’s largest shareholder, Rupert Murdoch’s family. They own a 17-percent stake and would face a multi-billion dollar capital gains tax bill if he accepted an all-cash offer from Comcast, tax experts have told Reuters.

Craig Moffett, an analyst with MoffettNathanson, said in a research note that Disney could prevail for other reasons.

“Disney has the superior balance sheet, cost of debt, equity and rationale to emerge victorious over Comcast in a bidding war,” Moffett said.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Additional reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker.

CNBC reports Comcast has officially submitted its $65 billion all-cash offer to acquire assets of 21st Century Fox. Disney is also a contender and may respond by sweetening its own offer. (2:29)

Comcast Prepares All-Cash Bid to Acquire 21st Century Fox for $52 Billion

Phillip Dampier May 8, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Reuters 1 Comment

(Reuters) – U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp is asking investment banks to increase a bridge financing facility by as much as $60 billion so it can make an all-cash offer for the media assets that Twenty-First Century Fox Inc has agreed to sell to Walt Disney Co for $52 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts only plans to proceed with the bid if a federal judge allows AT&T Inc’s planned $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc to proceed, the sources said. The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed the AT&T-Time Warner deal over antitrust concerns, and a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is expected in June.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger clinched an all-stock deal with Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch in December to acquire Fox’s film, television and international businesses, giving the world’s largest entertainment company an arsenal of shows and movies to combat growing digital rivals Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Comcast, owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, has also made a 22 billion pound ($30 billion) offer to acquire the 61 percent stake in European pay-TV group Sky Plc that Fox does not already own. In doing so, it topped an earlier offer for the entirety of Sky by Fox.

Last November, Comcast offered to acquire most of Fox’s assets in an all-stock deal valued at $34.41 per share, or $64 billion, a regulatory filing showed last month. Like Disney, Comcast sought to buy Fox’s entertainment networks, movie studios, television production and international assets, the filing shows.

Fox ended up announcing an all-stock deal with Disney for $29.54 per share. In the regulatory filing, Disney and Fox cited regulatory hurdles as reasons to reject Comcast’s bid, even though they did not reference it by name.

The exact value of Comcast’s new bid for the Fox assets is not yet clear, although the $60 billion in new financing indicates it is seeking significant firepower to outbid Disney. Comcast already has a $30 billion bridge loan to finance its Sky offer.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Comcast, Fox and Disney declined to comment.

Fox shares rose 5.13 percent to $39.99 on the news in after-hours trading in New York on Monday. Comcast shares were down 1.5 percent to $31.90, while Disney shares were down 0.5 percent to $102.00.

Murdoch, who owns close to a 17 percent stake in Fox and holds about 40 percent of the voting power, prefers to be paid in stock rather than cash for the Fox assets, because this makes the transaction non-taxable for shareholders, sources have said. It is not clear how receptive he would be to an all-cash offer.

Last month’s regulatory filing also showed that Fox viewed Disney’s stock as more valuable than Comcast’s, based on historic prices, and felt that a deal between Disney and Fox would generate greater long-term value. The Roberts family controls Comcast through a dual-class stock structure.

Comcast’s stock has dropped since then, from around $38 to about $32 now, giving the company a market capitalization of $149 billion.

Disney has committed to share buybacks as a way of returning cash to Fox shareholders. As a result, Comcast sees an opening in being disruptive to the deal by making an all-cash bid, according to the sources.

In its deal with Disney, Fox agreed to separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, its sports channels FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network, into a newly listed company that it will spin off to its shareholders.

Reporting by: Greg Roumeliotis and Liana B. Baker in New York; Additional reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Lisa Shumaker

FCC Repeals Net Neutrality 3-2 in Party Line Vote

Pai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines on Thursday to repeal landmark 2015 rules aimed at ensuring a free and open internet, setting up a court fight over a move that could recast the digital landscape.

The approval of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal marked a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc and hands them power over what content consumers can access.

Democrats, Hollywood and companies like Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc had urged Pai, a Republican appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump, to keep the Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content.

Consumer advocates and trade groups representing content providers have planned a legal challenge aimed at preserving those rules.

The meeting was evacuated before the vote for about 10 minutes due to an unspecified security threat, and resumed after law enforcement with sniffer dogs checked the room.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the reversal. He called the vote “a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said in the run-up to the vote that Republicans were “handing the keys to the Internet” to a “handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”

Shares of Alphabet, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp moved lower after the vote.

Schneiderman

Pai has argued that the 2015 rules were heavy handed and stifled competition and innovation among service providers.

“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success,” he said on Thursday.

The FCC voted 3-2 to repeal the rules.

NEXT STEPS

Consumers are unlikely to see immediate changes resulting from the rule change, but smaller startups worry the lack of restrictions could drive up costs or lead to their content being blocked.

Internet service providers say they will not block or throttle legal content but that they may engage in paid prioritization. They say consumers will see no change and argue that the largely unregulated internet functioned well in the two decades before the 2015 order.

Democrats have pointed to polls showing a repeal is deeply unpopular and say they will prevail in protecting the rules, either in the courts or in U.S. Congress.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said in a written dissent released on Thursday that the decision grants internet providers “extraordinary new power” from the FCC.

“They have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic. And now this agency gives them the legal green light to go ahead,” she said.

Several state attorneys general said before the vote they would work to oppose the ruling, citing problems with comments made to the FCC during the public comment period. Other critics have said they will consider challenging what they consider to be weaker enforcement.

Net neutrality supporters had rallied in front of the FCC building in Washington before the vote.

The 2015 rules were intended to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband providers from favoring their own content. Pai proposes allowing those practices as long as they are disclosed.

Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who heads a trade group representing major cable companies and broadcasters, told reporters earlier this week that internet providers would not block content because it would not make economic sense.

“They make a lot of money on an open internet,” Powell said, adding it is “much more profitable” than a closed system. “This is not a pledge of good-heartedness, it’s a pledge in the shareholders’ interest.”

The chief executive of USTelecom, a lobbying group that represents internet providers and the broadband industry, said in a statement the industry has “renewed confidence to make the investments required to strengthen the nation’s networks and close the digital divide, especially in rural communities.”

A University of Maryland poll released this week found that more than 80 percent of respondents opposed a repeal. The survey of 1,077 registered voters was conducted online by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland from Dec. 6-8.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Chris Sanders; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Meredith Mazzilli

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