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FCC Moves To Block AT&T Deal With T-Mobile Forecasting “Massive” Job Loss

UPDATED: The merger of the wireless companies was already on the ropes after August when the Justice Department said it would challenge the deal in court on antitrust grounds. Now FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is circulating a draft order that would add an important additional barrier to the deal: It would ask an administrative law judge to consider whether the combo would serve the public interest — after the end of the Justice trial, due to begin in February. That would significantly delay and complicate the AT&T and T-Mobile’s merger plans. The last time the FCC did this — in 2002 when Echostar wanted to merge with DirecTV — the companies scrapped their plan.

Genachowski’s proposal follows a conclusion by FCC staff that consumers would be harmed if AT&T and T-Mobile merge. “The record clearly shows that — in no uncertain terms — this merger would result in a massive loss of U.S. jobs and investment” as AT&T cuts costs to make the economics of the deal work, a senior FCC official says. The agency found that there’d be less competition in 99 of the 100 biggest markets. (The exception is Omaha.) Staffers also concluded that the deal would not improve deployment of 4G services. If the FCC decides not to approve a merger like this, then it has to send the case to an administrative law judge for a court-like hearing that would look at whether the deal would serve the public … Read More »

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FCC Chief Wants To Ease TV Station Cross Ownership With Radio And Newspapers

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is prepared to junk federal rules that limit companies from owning TV and radio stations in the same market — and go half way in doing the same for TV stations and newspapers. He’s circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would wipe out the TV-newspaper restriction in the 20 largest markets, trade magazine Broadcasting and Cable reports citing “a person familiar with the document.” But it would keep a test that could block a combo in smaller markets if it would result in  less local news, less diversity of voices, or too much concentration of economic power. Genachowski’s proposal sounds a lot like the standard that former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, pushed through in 2008. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned those rules this past July, saying that Martin hadn’t given the public enough time to weigh in on them. Public interest advocates who want to preserve cross-ownership restrictions applauded the court decision. Newspaper and broadcast owners say that mergers are needed to preserve local newsrooms as their companies compete against a massive number of national news competitors on cable TV and the Internet. As part of the rulemaking process, the FCC will ask whether stations skirt the ownership limits Read More »

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Cable Show: Big Media Gets The Last Word

The message for the television industry at this year’s National Cable Show was clear: It’s all about broadband now. Programmers agreed that they have to focus on consumers who want to watch video on their smartphones and tablet computers. Meanwhile, cable operators know that they can make a lot of cash by enticing new customers to buy broadband now that the TV service business is mature. The big question is whether the Big Media companies can move fast enough to head off competitors such as Apple, Google, and Netflix. But we’ll let the moguls have the last word:

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman

  • “For the content owners there’s never been a better time.”
  • “Netflix is primarily a service that provides library programming. … Netflix got involved in one show (House Of Cards) that was a pay television kind of project, but that isn’t their fundamental business.”
  • “If we are ad supported, (then) we need to have a measurement system in place so the mobile device in the home can sell ads. … (Nielsen) is not measuring it now. That’s one of the obstacles [for TV Everywhere].”
  • “Consumers are changing. … People don’t want to watch the 17th repeat of the same show.”
  • “In a world of a lot of choices, Snookie still rules.”

News Corp COO Chase Carey

  • “We have to do a better job of exciting consumers.”

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes

  • “Let’s all cheer up. This isn’t the music industry. It’s the cable industry. … It’s morning in the cable industry.”
  • “We’re all sitting here at this convention at the cusp of putting all of [our programming] on demand. … We need to get [shows] on every device.”
  • “Put the TV on all the Internet devices and don’t charge people to do it and allow them to [access] they way they’re accustomed to.”

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

  • “We are demonsrating a whole new level of (Internet) speed. … It’s where the future of broadband is headed.”
  • “We need to make the television feel as relevant as all of these other products [such as smartphones and iPad tablet computers].”

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt

  • “There’s no such thing as a TV anymore. There’s a video display device.”
  • “I see Netflix as another programmer. But clearly if there is something that makes consumers not want to buy the big package (of programming) that we’re selling then that’s a threat to all of us.”
  • “There clearly is a growing underclass of consumers that can’t afford [cable TV] and they want it. It would behoove all of us to have smaller packages… The economics make it difficult, but it would serve us well to worry about that group.”

Cox Communications President Pat Esser

  • “You have to keep going back to the consumer and asking what they value. … Consumers wil reward you for doing that. And in some cases you won’t control all of it.”

Read More »

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FCC Chief Julius Genachowski Under Fire As Activists Slam Report On Local News

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has a serious PR problem on his hands following today’s release of a long-awaited 478-page report about the state of local journalism. Public interest advocates are livid over the absence of tough and sweeping proposals to improve TV and radio station newscasts. The Media Access Project, an activist law firm, blasted the report for lacking “meaningful recommendations.” And some are talking about trying to turn audience frustration over the lousy quality of local news into a high-profile political issue. Commissioner Michael Copps says he wants the FCC to hold at least three hearings over the next three months to see if the public agrees with report’s presumption that “they are being served by our present news and information infrastructure.” He adds that “there is real urgency here. … I cannot and will not leave these issues where they are.”

The report – Information Needs Of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape In A Broadband Age — was prepared by an FCC working group led by former journalist Steven Waldman. It says that local public-interest journalism has weakened as traditional newspapers and TV stations struggle to keep up with competition from Internet news sources. Read More »

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Will FCC Chief’s Broadband Fight Pit Him Against The 1st Broadcast Network For African Americans?

Raycom Media did its part today to help the broadcast industry in its fight to hang on to airwave spectrum — the over-the-air signals that many stations consider to be their life blood. The TV station owner was the first to unveil a deal to offer Bounce TV, which calls itself the first broadcast  network for African Americans. What makes this different from a million other press releases about well-meaning projects? Remember: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants TV stations to give up some of the spectrum that they use to transmit shows to TV sets with antennas. He wants to auction the airwaves to phone companies that sell wireless broadband services. Without a change, he says, people who use smartphones and tablet computers soon will face a crisis of high prices, dropped calls and dead zones. But stations offering Bounce TV can say that they are making better use of the airwaves. The network will give “underserved African American consumers a new local television brand designed specifically for them,” Raycom CEO Paul McTear says. The programming plans are still vague: Bounce TV executives including Martin Luther King III, Ambassador Andrew Young and the co-founders of Rainforest Films — Rob Hardy and Will Packer — say the channel will operate 24/7 and offer original shows, sports, re-runs and movies including Universal’s Ray, Do The Right Thing, The Bone Collector and The Wiz and Sony’s Philadelphia, Ali and A Raisin In The Sun. They expect Bounce TV to be available … Read More »

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Who Will Blink First Over TV Spectrum? Obama Administration Battles Broadcasters

For those who don’t know, “spectrum” is techno-speak for the airwaves used to transmit TV shows and cell phone calls among other things. And it’s at the center of what is being called one of the biggest telecom lobbying battles of the year. National Association Of Broadcasters chief Gordon Smith told station owners last week at their annual convention in Las Vegas that the trade group is “in full battle mode.” If  he means it, then it would be a big threat to the Obama administration’s wireless broadband plan. The broadcasters’ trade group would rather eat glass than give up the medium they’ve used to transmit shows since the 1950s, when Milton Berle ruled primetime. The NAB’s biggest concern is that the government might seize spectrum without a broadcaster’s consent. CBS chief Les Moonves echoed that message when he said last week that, as long as it “remains voluntary, we’re fine with that. Because we’re not going to volunteer.”

True, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski promises that “no broadcaster will be forced to offer up spectrum for auction.” Those who do, he adds, “will know exactly what the deal is before relinquishing any rights.” And that’s the key. Will this turn into a titanic battle that will shape the future of media and the digital economy? I’m of the opinion that there isn’t thatbig a divide between the FCC and NAB’s positions. And I think all the posturing and threats will end as soon as Genachowski and the NAB can agree on how much stations owners should receive for giving up their claim on what used to be thought of as the public’s property.

Here’s what you need to know now: Read More »

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FCC Chair Approves Comcast-NBCU Merger As Deal Moves To Vote By Commission

Nellie Andreeva

A day after Comcast issued a statement saying that its proposed merger with NBC Universal won’t receive government approval by the end of the year, the company secured a key FCC  vote. The commission’s chairman Julius Genachowski today issued a draft order approving the deal with some conditions and putting it up for vote before the other 4 members.

While Genachowski has concerns over the merger, they were outweighed by the public interest, FCC officials said in a news conference. Still, an approval of the deal by the FCC is expected to come with conditions related to Internet video distribution of the company’s content and fair access to Comcast systems for non-NBCU networks.

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UPDATE: Cablevision-Fox War Of Words Intensifies As Political Pressure Mounts

Nellie Andreeva

Here is a brief recap of the events on Day 4 of the Fox blackout on Cablevision that has affected some 3 million  homes in the New York area.

All quiet on the actual negotiations front: “Fox and Cablevision held a short phone call today,” Fox said. “No material progress was made and we remain far apart. Both sides agreed to continue talking tomorrow.” But in the public space and in Washington, the spat created a storm, with more and more politicians weighing in. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) today sent FCC chairman Julius Genachowski a copy of legislation he is drafting, which would mandate that retrans disputes be taken to a third party arbitrator and would put enough safe guards to prevent network blackouts in such disputes. In turn, Genachowski today issued his most sternly-worded statement on the issue yet, in which he said he called the CEOs of the two companies and urged them to negotiate in good faith and reach a deal, though he stopped short of getting the FCC to intervene as some have asked. ”I am deeply troubled that Cablevision and Fox are spending more time attacking each other through ads and lobbyists than sitting down at the negotiating table,” Genachowski said. “The time for petty gamesmanship is over.” Read More »

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