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Antitrust

Judge Allows AT&T-Time Warner Merger to Proceed Over Objections of Trump Justice Department

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WASHINGTON, June 12, 2018 – A federal district judge on Tuesday ruled that AT&T can proceed with its $85 billion merger with entertainment giant Time-Warner, spurning Justice Department arguments that the allowing the deal to proceed would harm consumers by driving up cable television costs.

District Judge Richard Leon flatly rejected the Justice Department’s  contention that merging with Time-Warner would give AT&T a reason to charge competitors to its own DirecTV service higher carriage rates for “must have” content owned by Time-Warner.

The ruling put an end to a rare government intervention into a so-called “vertical” merger, which took on political overtones as a result of President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on one of Time-Warner’s brands, the cable news channel CNN.

Trump’s attacks on the merger – and the news network – date back to his days as a candidate for the presidency.

Those attacks took on a different cast in November after Trump tweeted out a fresh attack just days after the Department of Justice’s antitrust division sued to block the deal, leading to questions as to whether the president personally ordered the suit in retaliation for CNN’s coverage of him.

“[Fox News] is much more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the world very poorly,” Trump wrote on November 25. “The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

While the White House has repeatedly denied that Trump had any hand in the Justice Department’s decision-making process, Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts as to the administration’s candor last month when he told The Huffington Post that “the president denied the merger.”

“They didn’t get the result they wanted,” Giuliani said.

He later walked back his comments shortly after during an interview with CNN in which he said Trump did not interfere in the department’s  internal deliberations.

Asked whether the president was aware of the decision, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said he did not yet have any information on the matter.

Democratic and consumer advocacy groups criticized Judge Leon’s decision

Democrats and consumer advocacy groups blasted Judge Leon’s decision as one that will harm consumers.

“This ruling is an assault on consumers, choice, and innovation,” said Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass.

“The telecommunications market needs more competition, not more consolidation. We need a telecommunications market where pay-TV gatekeepers don’t favor their own content providers, but allow minority, diverse, and independent programmers to reach Americans’ screens.

“I fear this decision will only further fuel merger mania in the telecommunications and other markets.”

The Senate Commerce Committee member said the decision underscores the need for strong network neutrality protections.

John Bergemeyer, senior counsel at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, called the ruling “a disappointing result,” adding that he expects the government to appeal.

“In the meantime, not only may consumers be harmed directly by the anticompetitive harms that this merger will cause, such as higher bills and fewer choices of programming and provider, but also by the many other mergers it will encourage,” he said in a statement.

“Now, more than ever, we need reinvigorated regulatory oversight of the video marketplace — such as program access and program carriage rules — to ensure that smaller distributors and programmers, and consumers, aren’t harmed by an increasingly uncompetitive market.”

(Photo of Judge Richard Leon courtesy Suffolk Law Review)

 

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Antitrust

‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says

‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’

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Photo of Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.

“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”

The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.

Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.

Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.

Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.

In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.

“The reality is that [Congress] can’t keep up,” said Welch. This comes at a time when antitrust action continues to pile up in Congress, sparking debate across all sides of the issue.

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Antitrust

FTC Commissioner Concerned About Antitrust Impact on Already Rising Consumer Prices

Noah Phillips said Tuesday he wants the commission to think about the impact of antitrust rules on rising prices.

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Screenshot of Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Rising inflation should be a primary concern for the Federal Trade Commission when considering antitrust regulations on Big Tech, said Commissioner Noah Phillips Tuesday.

When considering laws, “the important thing is what impact it has on the consumer,” said Phillips. “We need to continue to guard like a hawk against conduct and against laws that have the effect of raising prices for consumers.”

Current record highs in the inflation rate, which means money is becoming less valuable as products become more expensive, has meant Washington must become sensitive to further price increases that could come out of such antitrust legislation, the commissioner said.

Phillips did not comment on how such movies would mean higher prices, but that signals, such as theHouse Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report two years ago, that reign in Big Tech companies and bring back enforcement of laws could mean higher prices. He raised concerns that recent policies are prohibiting competition rather than facilitating it.

This follows recent concerns that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, currently awaiting Senate floor consideration, will inhibit America’s global competitiveness by weakening major American companies, thus impairing the American economy. That legislation would prohibit platform owners from giving preference to their products against third-party products.

This act is one of many currently under consideration at Congress, including Ending Platform Monopolies Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.

Small businesses have worried that by enacting some legislation targeting Big Tech, they would be impacted because they rely on such platforms for success.

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Antitrust

Critics and Supporters Trade Views on American Innovation and Choice Online Act

American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to protect fair competition among businesses, but panelists differed on its impact.

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Photo of Amy Klobuchar from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – Experts differed on the effect that antitrust legislation targeting big tech companies allegedly engaging in discriminatory behavior would have on small businesses.

Small businesses “want Congress not to do anything that will screw up or weaken the services that they rely on for their business,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice present of the Consumer Technology Association, at a Protocol Live event on Thursday.

Petricone said that antitrust bill would encourage tech companies to relocate to other countries, harming the American economy. He said small businesses would be affected the most.

Instead, Petricone called for  a “smarter immigration policy” to allow foreign innovators access to American tech market, as well as the defeat of the antitrust legislation.

But other said that small businesses suffer from predatory behavior by big tech companies. “Companies can’t get their foot in the door when there is already self-preferencing,” said Awesta Sarkash, representative for Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, adding that 80% of small businesses say they want antitrust laws to protect them.

Self-preferencing on online platforms is detrimental to the success of small businesses who rely on social media advertising for business, she said. The new antitrust proposals would ensure an level playing field and promote fair competition, she said.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, was introduced to the Senate on May 2 and is awaiting Senate floor consideration.

The debate follows concerns raised by both democrats and republicans about America’s global competitiveness as the bill would weaken major American companies.

If passed, the bill will follow the European Union’s Digital Services Act which similarly sets accountability standards for online platforms, preventing potentially harmful content and behavior.

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