John Eggerton

Sens Raise Comcast/TWC Hearing Concerns With FCC, Justice

Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT) the chair and ranking members of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, respectively, have written the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department to highlight concerns raised in the parent Senate Judiciary Committee's marathon April 9 hearing on the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger.

Among the issues they wanted the agencies to consider in their vetting of the deal was the combined company's share of the broadband video market.

"A key element of any analysis of this merger will be the impact it will have on innovation in the markets for Internet and video and, in particular, any impact it may have on the development of online video distribution," they wrote in the letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and William Baer, assistant attorney general for antitrust.

Sens Klobuchar and Lee also relayed concerns from the hearing about the deal's reduction of the number of potential outlets for traditional video programming, and its potential to raise prices by raising its rivals' costs. "Because this transaction will materially increase the buying power of the largest buyer in the market for programming, it is important for your agencies to carefully assess the impact of this transaction on the ability of viable content providers of all types to obtain distribution of their content," they wrote.

Sens Klobuchar and Lee's last point was about the potential to raise prices for must-have content, including regional sports networks.

Mayors Strongly Back Network Neutrality

The National Conference of Mayors has approved a resolution supporting Federal Communications Commission’s network neutrality rules and calling for "comprehensive nondiscrimination" -- no paid priority -- to be a "key principle" in any FCC rulemaking creating new rules.

That came in a resolution--among 261 pages worth of them--adopted at their annual meeting in Dallas, which ended on June 23. They mayors also called on the White House and Congress to back the FCC, and the latter, if necessary, to "enshrine access to a free and open Internet and give the FCC a clear mandate."

As for paid prioritization, which has become a hot-button issue for the FCC's proposed new rules and their "commercially reasonable" standard for allowing some types of discrimination, the mayors were clearly supportive. The mayors also added their support to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to preempt state laws that impede municipal broadband, saying they were a "significant limitation" to competitive broadband.

FCC'S E-Rate Proposal Gets Some Supports

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's E-rate reform proposal took heat from a bunch of education associations, but not all were giving the plan a low grade, particularly those who applauded Wheeler for moving on reforms they see as needed now.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) "applauded" the momentum toward reform represented by the proposal. It pointed out that many of the proposals were ones it had suggested, including prioritizing broadband, increasing transparency, and increasing infrastructure investments.

“By focusing E-rate on high-speed broadband and expanding funding for Wi-Fi, Chairman Wheeler’s proposal for the modernization of E-rate lays the foundation for the permanent expansion of E-rate that the nation’s schools and libraries so desperately need," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. "I appreciate Chairman Wheeler’s sense of urgency on this matter. I urge the FCC to modernize E-rate, and to quickly take the next step of expanding the program to bring today’s schools and libraries into the digital age."

Writers Guild: AT&T/DirecTV Must Be Blocked

Writers Guild of America, West, President Christopher Keyser, will tell the Senate antitrust subcommittee on June 24 that the proposed AT&T/DirecTV merger "threatens the progress of our most vital communication platforms and will stifle the creativity, independence and innovation enabled by online video."

The merger will inevitably lead to collusion on price, choice and service, he said, cannot be mitigated by conditions, is not in the public interest, and should be blocked. Keyser said that was coming from a group representing more than 8,000 TV and movie writers.

"The writers whom I represent have experienced two decades of consolidation, which has reduced a once vibrant market of independent producers to one in which seven companies control almost all of television," he said in written testimony for a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing on the deal.

DirecTV's White: Bigger Means Better Competitor

Mike White, president of DirecTV, says its merger with AT&T is all about competitive bundles, faster broadband, and being more competitive with cable.

That is according to his testimony for hearings in the House and Senate Antitrust subcommittees June 24. White and AT&T Chairman Randall Stevenson were preparing to take turns pitching the deal as witnesses for both hearings.

White points out that cable ads point to his company's lack of an Internet offering and cable's speed advantages. And while DirecTV plays up other advantages of satellite in its now-famous marionette ads about the lack of wires, White was conceding the disadvantages and saying DirecTV must adapt--or in this case be adopted by a broadband player like AT&T. He said consumers are increasingly demanding bundles (although at least one media research analyst--Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson, suggested what consumers really want are discounts).

"We must offer our own integrated bundles if we hope to meet this new consumer demand," he said. He also said it was "enormously" important to be able to prove over-the-top video, as well as improve its linear video given all the services and extras cable operators can offer.

MMTC Backs Prometheus Challenge To Media Ownership Decision

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council supports Prometheus's challenge to the Federal Communications Commission's media ownership decision and has asked the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to allow it to intervene in support of Prometheus.

Prometheus, among other things, takes issue with the fact that the FCC has yet to comply with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' order to justify or modify the FCC's method of boosting minority ownership, or propose new measures to do so.

In deciding to combine the 2010 and 2014 congressionally mandated media ownership, the FCC deferred a decision on the minority issues.

"Taken together, we believe that Commission’s failure to address minority and women ownership as being “outside the scope of this proceeding” is clear error, and its continued “kicking the can down the road” on issues of media ownership by minorities and women is indefensible.”

ACA: AT&T/DirecTV Needs Fair Pricing Conditions

The American Cable Association is telling Congress it thinks the government needs to put conditions on the AT&T/DirecTV deal to decrease the incentive of DirecTV-affiliated programmers from charging higher prices to their rivals, which include hundreds of ACA members.

That is according to the written testimony of Ross Lieberman, senior VP of government affairs for hearings on the proposed deal in both the House and Senate June 24.

Lieberman cited ACA's concern over consolidation in general, including the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal and Comcast/Charter system swaps.

"Congress and the Federal Communications Commission ('FCC') need to ensure that consumers who reside in markets served by smaller multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) will not lose any competitive options or see their prices increase as the consolidation wave continues," he said.

FCC E-Rate Reforms Don't Rate With Education Groups

Count the National Education Association, the Parent-Teacher Association, the American Federation of Teachers and a whiteboard full of other education associations as very concerned about Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed changes to the E-rate program a subsidy for advanced communications services to schools and libraries, which they argue could be a rush to reform that jeopardizes the program.

The FCC signaled a vote for the July 11 meeting on reforms to E-rate, which is part of the FCC's efforts to make wireless more of a player and migrate away from voice subsidies, which will eventually be zeroed out. Said one industry source, the education groups were looking for more money over a longer period of time than they will be getting. The source suggested it could be Chairman Wheeler's next big fight.

The groups, who are beneficiaries of the E-rate program, are concerned that the FCC cannot support a five-year, $5 billion investment in Wi-Fi connections without raiding funding for ongoing broadband connectivity. They also don't like a per-pupil allocation formula for schools, a one-size-fits-all approach that they argue is grossly oversimplified.

It’s Official: JSA Unwinding Clock Starts

The Federal Communications Commission sent out official notice that June 19 was the effective date of its new joint sales agreement (JSA) restrictions, which make some JSA's attributable as ownership interest.

That means that same-market JSA's that broker more than 15% of a station's weekly ad time (which is most JSA's), and whose attribution will put an owner over the FCC's local ownership limits, will have two years from that date, or June 19, 2016, to unwind them or take other action to come into compliance with the rules.

Sources: July FCC Vote Expected On IP Clip Captioning

Broadcasters and cable operators may be battling over retransmission consent, but they are on the same side when it comes to closed captioning online clips of shows originally aired on TV.

The buzz around the commission is that the chairman is planning to circulate an item for a vote at the July 11 open meeting requiring broadcasters and cable operators to caption clips as well as long-form online versions of their shows.

In a joint filing, the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association told the Federal Communications Commission they didn't think the FCC had the authority to regulate the captioning of online clips, but that if the FCC does, it should not make them responsible for those clips on third-party sites, including network web sites. NAB said the requirement would limit the number of clips that can be used and said a 24-hour deadline would be more reasonable.

It also said there were journalistic reasons why an uncaptioned version of a clip would be retained on a site along with a captioned version. NCTA urged the FCC to allow voluntary efforts to continue rather than imposing the clip mandate. It also urged the FCC to recognize the difficulty of captioning time-sensitive clips and its support for a 24-hour turnaround time.