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The Week Ahead: Opposition to Tribune/Sinclair deal ramps up amid FCC deadline

In Congress:

Senators return home this week for the August recess. Before leaving, the Senate voted to confirm dozens of President Donald Trump's nominees, including Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr, both of whom will serve as commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission.

One nominee not included in the larger confirmation package, however, was FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai has attracted criticism from House and Senate democrats for moving forward on a proceeding to overturn the Open Internet Order of 2015, which reclassified broadband service as a Title II service under the Communications Act. The reclassification made broadband subject to more stringent regulatory authority, allowing the FCC to enforce its net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

On Aug. 3, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter signed by a total of 21 senators asking the FCC to extend the reply comment period for its proceeding on the Open Internet Order. Noting that the commission has already received more than 15 million comments in the proceeding, the senator said, "This volume of comments underscores the tremendous interest the public has in this proceeding." The senators asked the commission to extend the reply comment period, which is currently set to end on Aug. 16, by an extra 30 days, arguing this would ensure "the fullest spectrum of comments fills the docket in this historic rulemaking."

Technically, the Senate had been scheduled to be in session through the end of the week, but it adjourned on Aug. 3 after passing its confirmation package. It is unclear when the chamber will next take up Pai's nomination and how the ongoing net neutrality proceeding might factor into the confirmation process. Given that Pai's current term officially expired in June 2016, he must be reconfirmed by the end of this year to remain at the commission.

At the FCC:

The FCC's deadline to file formal opposition to Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s proposed purchase of Tribune Media Co. is on Aug. 7. Specifically, interested parties must file their petitions to deny with the commission no later than Aug. 7, with any oppositions to those petitions due by Aug. 22.

The transaction has attracted a fair amount of attention in recent months, with opponents arguing the deal threatens both localism and competition. In part, this has to do with sheer size. In June, eight Senate democrats noted that if Sinclair and Tribune are allowed to merge, the combined company "would be the largest television broadcast company in the United States covering 72% of U.S. homes across 108 markets."

But there are also political concerns due to Sinclair's history of dictating a top-down, partisan approach to news coverage. The company requires its stations to run short commentary programs such as "Behind the Headlines with Mark Hyman" with recent program titles including "Fake News," "Anonymous Sources," "Clinton Threat," "Dishonest New York Times" and "Bottom Line with Boris," which is hosted by former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn. Experts, though, have noted there is no mechanism for the FCC to consider content balance issues as part of its review of the deal.

Within the pay TV industry, meanwhile, concerns around the deal have to do with the potential financial consequences of the deal, rather than the political ones. Specifically, pay TV operators including DISH Network Corp. and members of the American Cable Association have warned that the combination of Sinclair and Tribune will lead to higher retransmission consent fees for broadcasters, resulting in higher cable and satellite bills for consumers.

On Aug. 7, an alliance of representatives from the media industry — including former democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, DISH Deputy General Counsel and Senior Vice President Jeff Blum and ACA CEO and President Matthew Polka — will discuss their opposition to the deal.

Events in Media & Communications:
Aug. 6-9 CableLabs hosts its Summer Conference 2017, providing members of the cable industry and vendors with information on updates in technology and opportunities for collaboration.
Aug. 7 Various representatives from the media industry — including former democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, DISH Deputy General Counsel and Senior Vice President Jeff Blum and ACA CEO and President Matthew Polka — will hold a call at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss their opposition to Sinclair's proposed purchase of Tribune.
Aug. 7-8 The financial services firm Cowen Inc. will host its annual Communications Infrastructure Summit in Boulder, Colo. Companies scheduled to present at the summit include American Tower Corp. and Zayo Group Holdings Inc.
Aug. 7 Liberty Global plc and CBS Corp. report their quarterly earnings results.
Aug. 8-9 Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. will host its 20th Annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference in Boston. The show provides a broad look across the supply chain at existing and emerging technologies.
Aug. 8 Walt Disney Co. reports its quarterly earnings results.
Aug. 9 21st Century Fox Inc. reports its quarterly earnings results
Aug. 10 Snap Inc. reports its quarterly earnings results.
Aug. 11 The Washington, D.C.-based think tank New America will host an event at 9:30 a.m. ET on Aug. 11 focused on embracing innovation and diversity in cybersecurity.