Proposed Merger Of Comcast And Time Warner Cable To Face Scrutiny
On Thursday, February 13, Comcast announced its intent to acquire Time Warner Cable (TWC) in a $45 billion transaction that would combine the two largest cable companies in the country. The proposed acquisition, however, is expected to receive close scrutiny from the Department of Justice, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Congress. Following the companies’ announcement of the proposed transaction, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, promptly announced plans to hold a hearing to scrutinize the details of the merger and its potential consequences for consumers and competition. On the House side, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, also signaled their intent to hold a hearing on the proposed merger.
FTC Commissioner Pushes Congress To Act On Privacy And Data Security Legislation
At an event last Thursday, February 20, Commissioner Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called on Congress to pass privacy laws to protect consumers from the collection of data and to add stronger transparency safeguards for consumers. Specifically, she noted that consumers should be able to opt out of marketing based on consumer data profiles collected over time and across various websites. She also called on Congress to require data brokers and other entities to grant users the opportunity to edit their online profiles. Commissioner Bill endorsed comprehensive privacy legislation and commended the data broker legislation recently introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), notwithstanding existing industry self-regulation efforts. She also echoed FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez’s support for a federal solution, stating: “I think it is increasingly clear that the United States needs data security legislation.”
This Week’s Hearings:
- Wednesday, February 26: The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights will hold a hearing titled “An Examination of Competition in the Wireless Market.”
FCC Announces Plans To Address Remand Of Open Internet Rules
Last Wednesday, February 19, the FCC opened a new docket to address the recent remand of the agency’s “net neutrality” rules by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. While the court in Verizon v. FCC vacated the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions of the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet order, the court concluded that the FCC does have authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic. The FCC does not plan to appeal the court’s ruling. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, however, announced his intention to pursue several measures, consistent with the FCC’s authority under Section 706, to ensure that the Internet “remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free express.” These steps include:
- Proposing new rules, consistent with the FCC’s Section 706 authority, to fulfill the objectives of the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions that were vacated by the court. The FCC will consider how to ensure that edge providers – those who use the network to deliver goods and services – are not unfairly blocked and that consumers can continue to access any lawful content and services they choose. The FCC also will consider (1) setting an enforceable legal standard that provides guidance on non-discrimination requirements; (2) evaluating on a case-by-case basis whether that standard is met; and (3) identifying behaviors by broadband providers that the FCC would view with particular skepticism.
- Keeping the possibility of reclassifying broadband services under Title II of the Communications Act on the table.
- Enforcing and enhancing the “transparency rule,” which requires broadband Internet service providers to disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services. The FCC emphasized this rule remains in full force and effect.
Chairman Wheeler’s net neutrality plan comes at a time when the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Many in the technology industry also have raised concerns that tiered pricing models and interconnection access may present greater threats to the industry than net neutrality.
FCC February Open Meeting
At its open meeting last Thursday, February 20, the FCC adopted the following items:
- A Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) intended to ensure that accurate caller location information is automatically provided to public safety officials for all wireless calls to 911, including indoor calls. Proposals include requiring in the near term that wireless providers meet interim location accuracy metrics that would be sufficient to identify the building for most indoor calls.
- New rules intended to improve the quality of closed captioning for television programming. The rules are designed to ensure that viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing have full access to the programming.
This Week’s Events and Deadlines:
- Monday, February 24: Initial comments are due in response to the FCC’s NPRM proposing elimination of the sports blackout rules.
- Tuesday, February 25: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will host a public stakeholder meeting to develop a consumer data privacy code of conduct for facial recognition technology.
- Friday, February 28: Comments are due in response to the FCC’s public notice seeking comment on a methodology for predicting potential interference between broadcast television transmissions and licensed wireless services operating in spectrum made available for flexible use through the FCC’s upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction.