Two developments this week will shape the future of convergence of the media and communications sectors, as federal net neutrality protections end June 11 and a U.S. district court judge decides June 12 whether to permit or block the combination of AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc.
From K Street to Main Street
In May, the Federal Communications Commission set June 11 as the date the order repealing the U.S. agency's net neutrality rules would officially go into effect. The order, adopted in a contentious party-line vote in December 2017, reclassified broadband as a Title I service under the Communications Act versus the Title II classification adopted in 2015 under the Democratic administration. The agency has less regulatory power over Title I services, meaning that it cannot impose tariffs or set rate regulations over internet service providers under the new classification. In addition, the order also eliminated the FCC's net neutrality rules, which prohibited network operators from blocking or throttling legal internet traffic or prioritizing certain traffic in exchange for payment.
Though the rule change had received the necessary approvals in May, the FCC chose June 11 as the effective date of the new framework to give providers time to comply with the new requirements.
The three Republican commissioners at the FCC who voted in favor of the new order have all said the rule change will have no negative impact on consumers. In fact, Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said June 7 that the return to a Title II classification for broadband service will actually benefit consumers by encouraging deployment and competition.
"It's going to mean better, faster, cheaper access for American consumers," Pai said.
Democrats, though, have warned the rule change will hurt consumers by allowing internet service providers to block, throttle or prioritize traffic as they see fit.
"I don't think anything gets better for consumers with the rollback of these rules," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said June 7 in response to Pai's remarks.
Meanwhile, the following day, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, will issue his decision on whether to block or permit AT&T's pending purchase of Time Warner. For six weeks, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department and the two companies battled back and forth over whether the proposed deal would hurt competition in the video marketplace. The Justice Department claimed the combination would give the resulting entity too much power in the pay TV and online video marketplace, leading to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. AT&T disputed that claim, arguing the synergies created by the merger would actually benefit consumers and lead to greater innovation.
According to The New York Times, Leon is expected to give a condensed version of his opinion at roughly 4 p.m. ET on June 12, with the full opinion also set to be released around the same time. Throughout the case, analysts and legal experts have remained divided on Leon's likely decision.
A former FCC Chairman's take
In an interview for C-SPAN's "The Communicators" series released June 7, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat who spearheaded the adoption of the 2015 Open Internet order, said he saw the repeal of the net neutrality rules and the proposed combination of AT&T and Time Warner as related.
"You look at what AT&T is doing — they are moving into content," Wheeler said, noting that the cable giant Comcast Corp., which like AT&T is an internet service provider and pay TV operator, is also pushing deeper into content, trying to add 21st Century Fox Inc. assets to its NBCUniversal Media LLC stable.
"What the absence of the Open Internet [order] does is to make that even more attractive because it says to the party that controls the network that delivers the content … that they can discriminate and favor their content," Wheeler said.
The former FCC chairman added he is looking forward to hearing Leon's ruling, but had no prediction on the outcome.
"The Windex on my crystal ball has run out," he said.
|June 13||The Senate Commerce Committee will convene a hearing entitled "Oversight of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration." This hearing will examine the Commerce Department's NTIA and the agency's role in managing federal spectrum and representing U.S. interests with the global internet multistakeholder community. Also, the hearing will look at how the NTIA is working to deliver a modern National Broadband Map capable of providing better service availability data.|
|June 13||The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a business meeting. One of the bills to be considered at the meeting is the Cyber SAFETY Act of 2018, which would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to designate cybersecurity technologies that qualify for protection under systems of risk and litigation management.|
|June 13||The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing entitled "Innovation and America's Infrastructure: Examining the Effects of Emerging Autonomous Technologies on America's Roads and Bridges."|
|June 14||The House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing entitled "Understanding the Digital Advertising Ecosystem."|
|June 11||The FCC's net neutrality rules officially end.|
|June 12||The FCC's Technological Advisory Council, comprised of a diverse group of leading technology experts, will meet.|
|June 14||The FCC's Disability Advisory Committee will meet. The commission provides advice and recommendations to the agency and aims to facilitate the participation of people with disabilities in proceedings before the commission.|
|June 12||With closing arguments having wrapped in the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit against the AT&T/Time Warner deal, both sides are now awaiting a decision. A ruling is expected by June 12.|
|June 11||The Federal Communications Bar Association will offer a primer on regulatory approval for mergers, acquisitions and transfers of control.|
|June 11 - 13||The M-Enabling Summit, designed to promote accessible technologies and environments for senior citizens and persons with disabilities, will take place in Washington, D.C.|
|June 12||The Open Markets Institute will hold an event titled "Breaking the News: Free Speech & Democracy in the Age of Platform Monopoly."|
|June 12||The Brookings Institution will hold an event titled "The dawn of a new era: Opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence."|
|June 12||The Heritage Foundation will hold an event titled "Blockchain: What It Is and How It Will Change Lives."|
|June 12||The NTIA will hold a Spectrum Policy Symposium.|
|June 13||Securing America's Future Energy will host an event titled "America's Workforce and the Self-Driving Future."|
|June 13||The Federal Communications Bar Association will host a luncheon on the launch of 5G services.|
|June 14||The Cato Institute will hold an event with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on net neutrality.|
|June 15||New America's Open Technology Institute will host an event titled "Harnessing Satellite Spectrum for Broadband: Will Incumbents Sell, Stay, or Share?"|
|June 13||The 2018 Cybersecurity Leadership Forum will consider how leaders in government and tech are changing the paradigm when it comes to cybersecurity.|
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