Judge Allows AT&T-Time Warner Merger to Proceed Over Objections of Trump Justice Department
WASHINGTON, June 12, 2018 – A federal district judge on Tuesday ruled that AT&T can proceed with its $85 billion merger with entertainment giant Time-Warner, spurning Justice Department arguments that the allowing the deal to proceed would harm consumers by driving up cable television costs.
District Judge Richard Leon flatly rejected the Justice Department’s contention that merging with Time-Warner would give AT&T a reason to charge competitors to its own DirecTV service higher carriage rates for “must have” content owned by Time-Warner.
The ruling put an end to a rare government intervention into a so-called “vertical” merger, which took on political overtones as a result of President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on one of Time-Warner’s brands, the cable news channel CNN.
Trump’s attacks on the merger – and the news network – date back to his days as a candidate for the presidency.
Those attacks took on a different cast in November after Trump tweeted out a fresh attack just days after the Department of Justice’s antitrust division sued to block the deal, leading to questions as to whether the president personally ordered the suit in retaliation for CNN’s coverage of him.
“[Fox News] is much more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the world very poorly,” Trump wrote on November 25. “The outside world does not see the truth from them!”
While the White House has repeatedly denied that Trump had any hand in the Justice Department’s decision-making process, Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts as to the administration’s candor last month when he told The Huffington Post that “the president denied the merger.”
“They didn’t get the result they wanted,” Giuliani said.
He later walked back his comments shortly after during an interview with CNN in which he said Trump did not interfere in the department’s internal deliberations.
Asked whether the president was aware of the decision, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said he did not yet have any information on the matter.
Democratic and consumer advocacy groups criticized Judge Leon’s decision
Democrats and consumer advocacy groups blasted Judge Leon’s decision as one that will harm consumers.
“This ruling is an assault on consumers, choice, and innovation,” said Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass.
“The telecommunications market needs more competition, not more consolidation. We need a telecommunications market where pay-TV gatekeepers don’t favor their own content providers, but allow minority, diverse, and independent programmers to reach Americans’ screens.
“I fear this decision will only further fuel merger mania in the telecommunications and other markets.”
The Senate Commerce Committee member said the decision underscores the need for strong network neutrality protections.
John Bergemeyer, senior counsel at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, called the ruling “a disappointing result,” adding that he expects the government to appeal.
“In the meantime, not only may consumers be harmed directly by the anticompetitive harms that this merger will cause, such as higher bills and fewer choices of programming and provider, but also by the many other mergers it will encourage,” he said in a statement.
“Now, more than ever, we need reinvigorated regulatory oversight of the video marketplace — such as program access and program carriage rules — to ensure that smaller distributors and programmers, and consumers, aren’t harmed by an increasingly uncompetitive market.”
Democrats Mourn Loss of Net Neutrality, But Industry Supporters Call it a New Day
WASHINGTON, June 12, 2018 – As the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era network neutrality rules took effect Monday, Democrats and net neutrality advocates vowed to continue the effort to use a Congressional Review Act resolution to roll back the new FCC rules.
“There will be no eulogy today for net neutrality,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime network neutrality advocate and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.
“The FCC will not have the last word when it comes to net neutrality, the American people will,” he said. “The fight to restore net neutrality rules has new urgency today and moving forward as we continue to work in the House of Representatives to repeal the FCC’s terrible decision.”
Markey urged House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to call for a floor vote on a companion bill to the CRA resolution passed by the Senate last month. The CRA measure, if it passed both chambers and were signed by the president, would void the laissez-faire “regulations” promulgated by the FCC in December 2017, under agency Chairman Ajit Pai.
‘An overwhelming majority of Americans’ support net neutrality, say Democratic legislators
The sponsor of that companion CRA bill, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., noted that “an overwhelming majority of Americans” support network neutrality despite the FCC’s refusal to follow public sentiment, but that it was “still possible” to save the policy by passing his resolution.
“The Senate has voted to overturn the FCC order that killed off net neutrality,” Doyle said. “Now the House must do the same.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed Ryan’s refusal to bring the Markey-Doyle resolution to the House floor.
“By refusing to bring up the Senate-passed resolution to restore net neutrality, which passed the Senate by a powerful bipartisan vote, House Republican leaders gave a green light to the big ISPs to charge middle-class Americans, small business owners, schools, rural Americans, and communities of color more to use the internet,” Schumer said, adding that the entire Senate Democratic Caucus had sent Ryan a letter urging him to move Doyle’s bill forward.
Schumer said that Republicans, except of the three GOP Senators who sided with the Democrats, were choosing large corporations and special interests over American families.
“Every Republican who opposed this vote will own any and all of the damaging consequences of the FCC’s horribly misguided decision,” he warned.
Pai publishes an op-ed arguing that the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Order’ will restore internet freedom
Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended his agency’s repeal of Obama-era network neutrality rules in an op-ed for C-Net. He said the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” will only improve the internet for users.
“Under the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which takes effect Monday, the internet will be just such an open platform. Our framework will protect consumers and promote better, faster internet access and more competition,” Pai wrote.
Pai attempted to bolster the FCC’s decision through claims that the new regulations introduces stronger transparency laws and hence more protection for the consumer.
He also lauded his agency passing power to the Federal Trade Commission for enforcement actions.
“Our approach includes strong consumer protections,” Paid said. “For example, we empower the Federal Trade Commission to police internet service providers for anticompetitive acts and unfair or deceptive practices. In 2015, the FCC stripped the FTC – the nation’s premier consumer protection agency – of its authority over internet service providers.
“This was a loss for consumers and a mistake we have reversed. Starting Monday, the FTC will once again be able to protect Americans consistently across the internet economy, and the FCC will work hand-in-hand with our partners at the FTC to do just that.”
Internet Innovation Alliance on defending the need for new laws on neutrality and privacy
The Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalition of business and non-profit organizations under leadership of Former Congressman Rick Boucher, D-Va., also defended the new laws.
The IIA issued a statement of support for today’s decision, calling it “the right decision” for consumers, investors, and “for the internet itself, as the internet will once again be subject to the rules under which it grew and flourished for nearly 20 years.”
Despite expressing support for the FCC’s rollback of Title II regulations, the IIA’s statement also addressed fears that the repeal of net neutrality —will empower internet service providers to discriminate against certain websites or services.
“But as grateful as we are for the Commission’s action and today’s implementation, we cannot rest here. The broadband internet is too important to our national life,” read the statement.
“We once again call on Congress to pass, this year, a law protecting the core principles of an open internet – no blocking, no throttling, no censorship, no unfair discrimination based on online content – and including robust consumer privacy protections that apply to all entities in the internet ecosystem and no matter how consumers access the internet.
“Only that action can settle the issue permanently and ensure that the principles of a truly open internet will have the force of statutory law,” IIA said.
(Photo collage of Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., upper left; Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., upper right; former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., lower right; and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, lower left.)
As Johnson Takes Oath At RUS, Purdue Remains ‘Hopeful’ On Infrastructure Plan Prospects
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2018 — Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday said he is “always hopeful” that progress will be made on President Trump’s $1.5 billion infrastructure plan, even as Congress shifts its focus to the upcoming primary election season.
“I’m always hopeful,” he said when asked about the plan’s prospects shortly after a swearing-in ceremony for incoming Rural Utilities Service Administrator Ken Johnson and several other Agriculture Department officials.
But Purdue explained that it’s far more likely that what progress is made on the infrastructure plan will be in the form of piecemeal appropriations like the $600 million set aside for the RUS in the FY2018 spending bill signed into law last month.
“I think what we will see more than likely are component pieces of [the plan]. Whether there will be a holistic bill or not, I can’t say — that’s for Congress to decide.”
Purdue also said the Trump administration’s approach to rural broadband, which relies more heavily on matching funds than the 2009 Recovery Act’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, the Obama administration’s signature broadband initiative.
“I’m a skin-in-the-game kind of guy,” he said, adding that if all stakeholders should have a “vested interest” in the process, they will work harder to make it successful.
Perdue deflected a question about the size of his security detail
A short time later he was asked about the relatively paltry size of his security detail compared with embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and whether he felt adequately protected. Pruitt has been under fire in recent months, for, among other things, increasing his security detail to over 20 full-time Special Agents working three shifts.
“I feel safe, I’m just less important,” he said with a grin.
Purdue spoke to reporters shortly after he administered the oath of office to Johnson, who until recently was general manager and CEO of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and president of Co-Mo Connect in Tipton, Missouri. In the latter role, he oversaw deployment of a Fiber To The Home network which provided 16,000 subscribers with gigabit internet for data, voice and video services without using any federal or state funds.
Johnson told BroadbandBreakfast.com it felt “incredible” to finally be able to be sworn in.
When asked if he was ready to get to work, he simply replied: “Absolutely.”