House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced network neutrality legislation, the Open Internet Preservation Act, that prohibits internet providers from blocking and throttling content, but does not address whether Internet service providers can create so-called “fast lanes” of traffic for sites willing to pay for it. The legislation also would require that ISPs disclose their terms of service, and ensure that federal law preempts any state efforts to establish rules of the road for internet traffic.
Will AT&T hang up on its quest for Time Warner if it can’t hang on to some of its most valuable assets? Answering that question could become paramount in the company’s effort to secure the $85 billion merger it proposed with Time Warner in October. Turner owns valuable sports rights, sharing with CBS the broadcast of the NCAA’s “March Madness” men’s basketball championship tournament. That event generated a record-setting $1.24 billion in national TV advertising in 2016, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said that the agency is studying restrictions on media ownership, characterizing a number of the rules as “quite antiquated.” In an interview with Variety, Chairman Pai said that an easing of such restrictions “is one of the issues that is under consideration. We haven’t made any firm determinations there, either.” Many broadcasters have championed the idea of lifting restrictions that limit the number of stations that one entity can own.
Also, in October, President Donald Trump said that he opposed the proposed merger of AT&T with Time Warner, saying that it was too much “power in the hands of too few.” A campaign adviser, Peter Navarro, now director of the National Trade Council, promised that Trump “will break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies that have gained enormous control over our information, intrude into our personal lives.” “We are studying the issue,” Chairman Pai said. “But what I can tell you is that having worked on that question [of media ownership] for a quite a while, I do think that a number of media ownership rules have become quite antiquated.” Asked whether he agreed that there was a problem with media concentration, Pai said that “we obviously have to take a case-by-case look as to the competitive landscape, and so it really depends on the geographic market, the product and service market that we are talking about. If it is a transaction that is involved, what are the competitive implications of the confirmation of that transaction? And so it is hard to opine in the abstract about a situation like that.”
While outgoing Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler had presided over an activist commission, ready to act on marketplace trends that would seemingly threaten competition, Chairman Ajit Pai is convinced that the best approach is one that is largely hands-off. He has signaled a willingness to target regulations that he sees as stifling investment. Yet President Donald Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric may conflict with Chairman Pai’s laissez-faire approach, particularly when it comes to big media mergers. Pai already has said that the FCC would not weigh in on the AT&T-Time Warner combination. That would leave the Dept of Justice as the sole agency to assess the deal. But the FCC, which reviews transactions to determine if they are in the public interest, would have an easier path to block the merger than would the DOJ, which, more narrowly, weighs whether a combination conforms to antitrust law.
President Donald Trump has withdrawn the nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel for another term on the Federal Communications Commission, leading to some speculation over how the White House plans to fill two vacancies on the commission.
The commission is split 2-1, with two Republicans and one Democrat. Rosenworcel, a Democrat, left the FCC at the end of 2016 after her tenure expired. President Barack Obama renominated her just weeks before he left office. The apparent expectation was that once President Trump took office, he would pair her nomination with a Republican choice and they would jointly go through the confirmation process. But Trump’s decision to pull her nomination has led to speculation that he would put forward another Republican and perhaps an independent or other Democrat more favorable to administration policy. In the past, the White House has deferred to Senate leadership in the selection of nominees from the opposing party. Democrats have already been vowing to push back if the administration tries to buck that tradition.