‘Spectacularly Good News for Consumers’ as Comcast/Time-Warner Mega-Merger Fails

‘FCC seems to have heard the nearly one million Americans who have told Washington that the proposed merger helps only the people in the executive suites of Comcast and Time Warner Cable,’ says Free Press

by: Jon Queally

Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and now a special advisor to Common Cause, said the development was “spectacularly good news for consumers concerned about the spiraling cost of cable and broadband and for millions of citizens who want nothing more to do with gatekeeping and consolidation in the communications ecosystem on which our democracy depends.” (Image: Free Press)

Despite a ferocious lobbying effort to get federal approval for a deal since last year, cable giant Comcast is planning to drop its highly-contested bid to merge with its largest competitor Time-Warner, reports Bloomberg news on Thursday.

According to Bloomberg:

Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said, after regulators planned to oppose the deal.

Comcast is planning to make a final decision on its plans Thursday, and an announcement on the deal’s fate may come as soon as Friday, said one of the people, who asked not to be named discussing private information.

This week, U.S. Federal Communications Commission staff joined lawyers at the Justice Department in opposing the planned transaction. FCC officials told the two biggest U.S. cable companies on Wednesday that they are leaning toward concluding the merger doesn’t help consumers, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Opponents of the merger, including consumer advocates and media watchdogs, immediately welcomed the news.

Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, championed the efforts of his members who lobbied the FCC and lawmakers to reject the deal. “Citizen voices can still make a difference in our government’s decision making,” Rapoport stated. “More than 800,000 Americans told the FCC that the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger would be bad for competition and innovation; their arguments were well-founded and have now carried the day. This is their victory.”

Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and now a special advisor to Common Cause, said the development was “spectacularly good news for consumers concerned about the spiraling cost of cable and broadband and for millions of citizens who want nothing more to do with gatekeeping and consolidation in the communications ecosystem on which our democracy depends.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who stressed his opposition to the deal since it was first announced last year, welcomed what appeared like a defeat for the cable giant.

“The report that Comcast is backing away from its bid to take over Time Warner Cable is good news for American consumers,” Sanders said. “The level of media consolidation in America already is unacceptable and it would have been extremely dangerous for one company to control 57 percent of the broadband Internet market, 30 percent of the cable market and dominate 19 of the 20 largest U.S metropolitan areas.”

In response to the news, Matt Wood, policy director at the media advocacy group Free Press Policy, issued the following statement:

If the news from the FCC is true, it would mean that Internet users can breathe a sigh of relief. Designating the deal for a hearing would make Comcast and Time Warner Cable go through a lengthy evidentiary procedure. That’s a very high hurdle to clear in its own right, and a huge barrier to overcome for a disastrous deal like this one, which has no real public interest benefits to show.

The FCC seems to have heard the nearly one million Americans who have told Washington that the proposed merger helps only the people in the executive suites of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. These executives failed to see the reality that was plain to all of the deal’s many opponents. Giving so much control over our communications system to one company — especially one with a track record of spiraling prices, terrible customer service and blocking Internet content — would be a terrible mistake.

Americans don’t need a bigger Comcast; they need more choices for affordable and open broadband services nationwide. The rejection of this merger would reflect the FCC and the DOJ’s renewed commitment to competition and consumer protection. The tens of millions of dollars that Comcast has spent on bankers, lawyers and lobbyists to push this ill-advised merger would have been better spent improving customer service and offering affordable high-speed fiber-to-the-home.

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As GOP Pushes Patriot Act Renewal, Critics Demand End to Mass Surveillance Provision

As Senate Republicans push for continued bulk data collection, privacy rights advocates call for Section 215 to expire ‘with the whimper it deserves.’

by: Nadia Prupis

Sen. Mitch McConnell introduced a bill to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act through 2020, giving the NSA continued power to conduct bulk data collection operations. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

As Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) introduced a bill Tuesday night that would reauthorize through 2020 a controversial Patriot Act provision allowing unwarranted government surveillance, Democratic opponents and civil liberties advocates are demanding an end to the NSA’s expansive spying operations.

The provision, Section 215, which gives the NSA legal justification to conduct bulk phone records collection, is set to expire June 1.

“The Patriot Act has been at the root of many of the most serious abuses of government spying powers.” —Anthony D. Romero, ACLUMcConnell’s bill,  co-sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), comes as a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both houses of U.S. Congress works to create legislation that would rein in the NSA’s powers under Section 215.

McConnell and Burr used a Senate rule that enabled them to skip the customary committee vetting process for new legislation and take the vote on the bill straight to the Senate floor. No date for the vote has been set.

Supporters of the provision say it is useful as a counter-terrorism measure. But as the Center for Democracy and Technology points out, “Section 215 is broadly worded, covering all business records of Americans—including medical records, firearm sales records, library and book sale records, credit card purchase information, Internet behavior data, and more.”

In January 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and the President’s Review Group determined (pdf) that the bulk collection program did not make a concrete difference in “a single instance involving a threat to the United States.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and an outspoken backer of surveillance reform, criticized McConnell’s maneuver.

“Ending the bulk collection of phone records under section 215 is the first step in reforming the NSA. The time for Congress to take that step is now.” —Nadia Kayyali, EFF”Republican leaders should be working across the aisle on legislation that protects both our national security and Americans’ privacy rights, but instead they are trying to quietly pass a straight reauthorization of the bulk-collection program that has been proven ineffective and unnecessary,” Leahy stated on Tuesday. “And more, they are attempting to do so without the committee process that the majority leader has promised for important legislation. This tone-deaf attempt to pave the way for five and a half more years of unchecked surveillance will not succeed.”

Leahy’s response was matched by privacy advocates, who echoed the call to let Section 215 expire and reiterated their opposition to McConnell’s bill.

“The Patriot Act has been at the root of many of the most serious abuses of government spying powers,” said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero. “We need to have a serious debate about the effectiveness of the Patriot Act and its implications for civil liberties. Until that happens, Congress should let Section 215 of the Patriot Act expire with the whimper it deserves.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, on Wednesday also stated its continued opposition to reauthorization of Section 215. The organization recently launched Fight215.org, a coalition with 34 other groups calling for an end to mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

“This bill completely ignores Americans’ concerns about the erosion of constitutional protections and increasing government intrusion into their lives.” —Harley Geiger, CDTEFF activist Nadia Kayyali told the Guardian on Wednesday, “Ending the bulk collection of phone records under section 215 is the first step in reforming the NSA. The time for Congress to take that step is now.”

Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, stated: “The Senate Majority Leader’s bill would keep the American people under warrantless mass government surveillance. The bill makes no attempt to protect Americans’ privacy or reform ongoing NSA surveillance programs that do not provide any tangible benefit to national security.”

“This bill completely ignores Americans’ concerns about the erosion of constitutional protections and increasing government intrusion into their lives,” Geiger added. “Congress should act decisively to end the NSA’s bulk collection of communication records, not endorse it.”

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Progressive Coalition Tells Lawmakers: ‘Don’t Trade Away Our Future’ with Fast Track

‘It is absurd that a trade agreement of such enormous consequence has had so little transparency,’ says Sen. Bernie Sanders

byDeirdre Fulton, staff writer

‘Working people are rising up against backroom deals that destroy our democracy and threaten our communities and the environment,’ said George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, who organized Monday’s anti-Fast Track rally alongside allies at the Campaign for America’s Future, Alliance for a Just Society, USAction, and national labor groups. (Photo: National People’s Action/flickr/cc)

With members of Congress set to debate Fast Track authority this week, hundreds of environmentalists, consumer advocates, nurses, labor leaders, and elected officials stood shoulder-to-shoulder at a Washington, D.C. rally on Monday, pleading with lawmakers: ‘Don’t Trade Away Our Future!’

“The TPP isn’t a trade deal. It is a corporate coup d’etat that is about to be rammed down the American people’s throats.” —Jim HightowerKey legislators behind the push for Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority, agreed on compromise legislation last week and both chambers of Congress are expected to further consider—and possibly vote on—the bill this week.

But grassroots groups are vowing to hold lawmakers accountable for their votes on Fast Track, which experts agree is essentially “congressional pre-approval” for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an industry-friendly, 12-nation trade pact currently being secretly negotiated by world governments and multinational corporations.

“Working people are rising up against backroom deals that destroy our democracy and threaten our communities and the environment,” said George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, who organized Monday’s action together with Campaign for America’s Future, Alliance for a Just Society, and USAction. “We won’t stand idly by while our government trades worker protections for corporate profits and democracy for secret agreements. We’ve seen this movie before and we know it does not end well.”

“We won’t stand idly by while our government trades worker protections for corporate profits and democracy for secret agreements.” —George Goehl, NPAFollowing a brief occupation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobby, protesters marched past the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, holding signs and banners declaring their opposition to Fast Track and the TPP. In addition, they tugged a ‘Trojan Horse’ symbolizing the hidden impacts of the mammoth trade deal.

“The TPP isn’t a trade deal,” columnist and political commentator Jim Hightower told the crowd. “It is a corporate coup d’etat that is about to be rammed down the American people’s throats. It would make us poorer and less free and we the people aren’t going to stand by and let it happen.”

“One of the key reasons why the middle class in America continues to decline and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider is because of disastrous trade agreements which have sent millions of decent-paying jobs to China and other low-wage countries,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a statement leading up to the rally, in which he participated.

Regarding the clandestine nature of the negotiations thus far, Sanders added: “It is absurd that a trade agreement of such enormous consequence has had so little transparency.”

Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, echoed Sanders’ indictment.

“Fast Track is not what Democracy looks like,” Cohen said. “We are shut out of the debate and the consequences are horrible for the environment, workers here and abroad, for our cities devastated by abandoned factories, and for public services underfunded with trade deficits leading to greater public deficits.”

Meanwhile, U.S. and Japanese trade officials met Monday in Tokyo in an effort to further pave the way for the proposed TPP. As The Hill reports, “[a] U.S.-Japan bilateral agreement is a major step toward completing” the TPP, which will be at the top of the agenda when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama meet in Washington, D.C. on April 28.

According to the Japan Times:

The second day of negotiations will be “the most crucial stage” of the prolonged bilateral talks on a broader Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari told reporters before meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

…During the two-day meeting, the trade chiefs are seeking to find common ground over how big an increase Japan should allow in imports of rice — one of its key agricultural products and its staple food — as well as abolition of trade barriers in the U.S. auto sector.

Monday’s march and rally in Washington, D.C. came on the heels of a nationwide Stop Fast Track day of action on Saturday, April 18.

Follow the #StopFastTrack movement on Twitter:

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