Trump Administration Pledges to Veto Net Neutrality Bill

As expected, White House officials April 8 said they would recommend President Donald Trump veto House Democrats’ efforts to revive net neutrality guidelines enacted in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama.

The current FCC, under Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai, reversed the guidelines, favoring so-called “light touch” regulation.

Following the 2018 midterm elections, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) introduced H.R. #1644 (Save the Internet) that would reinstate net neutrality classifying the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

The bill, which has 197 co-sponsors, seeks to stop Internet service providers from enacting speed lanes for higher-paying Web traffic and throttling third-party competitive services.

The legislation is up for possible vote in the Democrat-control House as early as April 9. If passed, it would be reconciled in the Senate and then sent to Trump for his signature or veto.

The White House (and many Republicans) argue that the current FCC last year sought to “restore Internet freedom” by adopting so-called “light-touch” regulation that it said enabled the Internet and entrepreneurs to “thrive” for nearly two decades.

In a tweet, the Office of Management and Budget said that since the FCC reversed its position on net neutrality, the United States has risen to sixth from 13th in global fixed broadband download speeds.

It said ongoing rollout of fiber technology benefited from a change in the law, underscored by an increase in capital investment by $2.3 billion.

“H.R. 1644 would undermine this success by repealing the FCC’s current rule,” the OMB tweeted. “If H.R. 1644 were presented to the President, his advisors would recommend that he veto it.”

 

 

‘Ivana Trump’s For Love Alone’ Coming on DVD in April From Mill Creek

Ivana Trump’s For Love Alone, based on the Donald Trump former spouse’s bestseller about a foreign beauty who marries and then divorces a business tycoon, is coming to DVD (plus digital) in April from Mill Creek Entertainment.

From Ivana Trump’s own writings, this is the story of a young Czechoslovakian beauty and skiing prodigy who rose from humble origins in communist Eastern Europe to reign as queen of the international jet set — not unlike Ivana’s Trump’s own rise to fame after her marriage to Donald Trump. It chronicles Katrinka’s marriage to American business tycoon “Adam Graham” and her bitter subsequent divorce.

Nexstar Media Group Acquires Tribune Media Company for $6.4 Billion

Nexstar Media Group Dec. 3 announced it has entered into a definitive merger agreement with Tribune Media Company to acquire all outstanding shares of Tribune Media in a cash deal valued at $6.4 billion, including the assumption of Tribune Media’s outstanding ($2.3 billion) debt.

The transaction makes Irving, Texas-based Nexstar the largest local TV station owner in the country, including 216 stations in 118 markets – reaching approximately 39% of U.S. television households. Tribune also owns 31% stake in Food Network.

The combined entity will be one of the nation’s leading providers of local news, entertainment, sports, lifestyle and network programming through its broadcast and digital media platforms with annual revenue of approximately $4.6 billion.

Notable Tribune stations include WGN America in Chicago and KTLA in Los Angeles. WGN became one of the first local broadcasters to ink production deals for original (now cancelled) series, including “Salem” from 20thCentury Fox, “Manhattan” (Lionsgate), and “Underground” (Sony Pictures), among others.

The deal is expected to close by the third-quarter next year following regulatory approvals.

“Nexstar has long viewed the acquisition of Tribune Media as a strategically, financially and operationally compelling opportunity that brings immediate value to shareholders of both companies,” Perry Sook, CEO of Nexstar, said in a statement.

Sook said the transaction offers synergies ($160 million in the first year) related to the enhanced scale of the combined broadcast and digital media operations and increases the company’s audience reach by about 50%.

The deal follows the scuttled $3.9 billion merger attempt between Tribune and Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which imploded following allegations the politically conservative Sinclair would have positioned Tribune stations as far-right partisan mouthpieces.

The new transaction reflects a 15.5% premium for Tribune Media shareholders and a 45% premium to Tribune’s closing price on July 16, the day FCC Ajit Pai issued a statement regarding his intention to hold a hearing on the Sinclair offer.

The Nexstar/Tribune deal faces its own regulatory hurdles under the current FCC and Department of Justice, which together under the direction of the Trump Administration, have taken stronger approaches toward media mergers as seen in the DOJ’s ongoing appeal of the AT&T/Time Warner pact.

Indeed, Nexstar said it intends to divest certain TV stations necessary to comply with regulatory ownership limits and may also divest other assets it deems to be non-core.

 

 

WarnerMedia Alleges Politics in Dish Network Dispute

WarnerMedia is accusing the Department of Justice of using a carriage disagreement with Dish Network as leverage in its appeal of a federal judge’s favorable verdict in AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

AT&T’s WarnerMedia — which includes HBO, Turner and Warner Bros. — for the first time (Nov. 1) pulled HBO and Cinemax from Dish Network after it claimed the satellite operator refused to negotiate. The move reportedly affected about 2.5 million of Dish’s 13 million pay-TV subscribers.

“Dish’s proposals and actions made it clear they never intended to seriously negotiate an agreement,” Simon Sutton, HBO president and chief revenue officer, said in a statement as reported by Reuters.

While carriage disagreements and negotiations aren’t uncommon, the AT&T/Time Warner merger is different. The deal has been entangled in partisan politics since the election of President Donald Trump.

Trump’s ongoing characterizations of certain media outlets — notably Turner’s CNN — as fake news and biased against him has prompted allegations the Justice Department’s last-minute objection to the merger was more about politics than antitrust issues.

The DOJ contends AT&T has too much power owning and controlling major content creators and distribution channels — leverage it claims hurts consumers. The carriage dispute, says the government, offers a blueprint example of that.

“This behavior, unfortunately, is consistent with what the Department of Justice predicted would result from the merger,” said a DOJ representative. “We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will correct the errors of the District Court.”

WarnerMedia says Dish is using the current political environment to extract more favorable contract terms. Indeed, it alleges Dish is collaborating with DOJ on the issue.

“That collaboration continues to this day with Dish’s tactical decision to drop HBO — not the other way around,” said a WarnerMedia rep. “DOJ failed to prove its claims about HBO at trial and then abandoned them on appeal.”

Andy LeCuyer, SVP pf programming at Dish, argues otherwise.

“It seems AT&T is implementing a new strategy to shut off its recently acquired content from other distributors,” he said.

Trump Signs ‘Music Modernization Act’, Easing Legal Requirements for Streaming Services

Lost in the haze of President Trump’s Oct. 11 bizarre news conference with rapper Kanye West, was the president signing into law the Music Modernization Act, passed unanimously by Congress in September.

Officially known as the “Orrin G. Hatch – Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act of 2018,” the legislation simplifies the “mechanical license” required for “musical composition” (music and lyrics) and sound recordings from record labels played on subscription music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and Amazon Prime Music, among others.

Before passage of the law, streaming music services were required to complete license forms for each song placed on their platforms – upwards of 10,000 titles per day.

Now, a new licensing agency will be established within the U.S. Copyright Office offering music services a blanket mechanical license to stream content. The agency will keep track of music streams and in turn pay royalties to rights holders.

The bill also allows for royalties to artists and songwriters for songs written prior to 1972. It also, for the first time, will afford compensation for a song’s producer played on satellite radio and online music service.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done here,” said Kid Rock, who attended the bill’s signing. “We need to go after the record labels next, and things like free goods. But this is a great start to protect songwriters, producers, engineers — the unsung heroes behind many of these songs that go out there. People like [me], who are maybe more at the top of the food chain, it really doesn’t affect as much. But I know many people it does affect.”

California Inks Net Neutrality Bill; Trump Administration Sues

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 30 signed legislation that returns key provisions of net neutrality law enacted by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama.

Brown approved SB822 — dubbed the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 — prohibiting fixed and mobile Internet service providers (ISPs) from engaging in actions concerning the treatment of Internet traffic.

The law prevents ISPs (including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon) from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, impairing (i.e. throttling) or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, application, service or use of specified practices known as “zero-rating,” which enable users to consume select content without impacting their monthly data caps.

It also denies ISPs from offering or providing services other than broadband Internet access service that are delivered over the same last-mile connection into consumer homes, if those services have the purpose or effect of evading the above-described prohibitions or negatively affect the performance of broadband Internet access service.

The Trump Administration responded with the Department of Justice filing a federal lawsuit claiming the state law violates provisions of the FCC’s rolled back net neutrality guidelines enacted under new chairman Ajit Pai.

“Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce — the federal government does,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Once again, the California legislature has enacted an extreme and state law attempting to frustrate federal policy.”

Pai, who was appointed to the FCC by Obama, and promoted to chairman position by President Trump, has long argued previous net neutrality provisions represented government overreach on private enterprise and thwarted capital investment.

The revamped FCC last December voted to reclassify ISPs as “information service providers.” That action — restoring lighter regulatory oversight — overturned the prior FCC’s 2015 ruling that classified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

“Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers,” Pai said, citing “zero rating” data plans he said enable low-income consumers to stream video and music.

“They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace,” Pai said.

Eddie Kurtz, with Courage Campaign, a civil liberties group, applauded the signing of SB822.

“Governor Jerry Brown did the right thing by choosing to institute the strongest net neutrality rules in the country, sending a clear signal to Californians that guaranteeing access to the internet for all, helping California communities — particularly low-income communities — and  boosting small businesses is a priority for our state,” said Kurtz.

 

AT&T Reiterates Operating Turner Separate from WarnerMedia Pending DOJ Appeal

AT&T CFO John Stephens reaffirmed the telecom will continue to operate Turner Broadcasting System as a separate business from WarnerMedia.

Turner, which includes CNN, TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang and TruTV, had been included under the Time Warner corporate umbrella prior to latter’s $85 billion acquisition by AT&T.

With the Department of Justice appealing its federal court antitrust loss stopping the merger, AT&T said it would operate Turner separately until the appeal deadline on Feb. 28, 2019.

Speaking Sept. 10 at an investor event in New York, Stephens said that while Turner would historically operate under WarnerMedia – headed by John Stankey – it would remain independent until resolution of the DOJ appeal.

“While we have committed to running Turner as a separate business pending the appeal, we intend to move the results of some of our other network properties such as our regional sports networks under Turner when we report [third-quarter, ending Sept. 30] results,” Stephens said.

It’s been speculated that CNN, which has been in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s “fake news” allegations, was the reason the DOJ filed its late antitrust litigation in the first place.

AT&T had sought to obtain communication between the White House and the DOJ regarding the case but was denied by the judge overseeing the case.

“This just continues what has been a very odd series of procedures by the DOJ,” Paul Sweeney, media analyst at Bloomberg, told The Dallas Morning News in July. “It’s perplexing to legal experts I’ve spoken to, and certainly investors.”

Meanwhile, Otter Media, the digital media company co-owned by AT&T and former 21stCentury Fox executive Peter Chernin, has been moved from AT&T’s entertainment group segment to WarnerMedia following the telecom’s acquisition of Chernin’s stake last month.

“We will continue to show financials at a reporting unit level for Turner, HBO and Warner for comparability purposes,” Stephens said.

Trump Wades Into ‘Roseanne’ Debacle

Leave it to President Donald Trump to make Roseanne Barr’s May 29 racist tweet about a former Obama Administration official about him — and turn it into a social media attack on Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Co.

Barr’s comments resulted in widespread condemnation in the media (including from Fox News rightwing firebrand Sean Hannity) and cancellation by Disney-owned ABC of her top-rated “Roseanne” TV show reboot.

While Barr has apologized, she also blamed the incident on her use of insomnia medication Ambien, to which the drug’s manufacturer responded that racism is not a known side effect.

Iger, who called cancellation of the “Roseanne” show the “right thing to do,” reportedly reached out to Valarie Jarret, the former senior advisor to Obama at the center of Barr’s racist tweet.

That was enough to irk Trump, who first took to social media May 30 asking for his own apology — from Iger.

“Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that “ABC does not tolerate comments like those” made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn’t get the call?” Trump tweeted.

The same day, Trump’s press enabler, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, called out ABC and Disney-owned ESPN on a list of alleged political wrongs originated by the media giant’s personalities.

Trump was referring to an “ABC News” report last year by Brian Ross that alleged former national security advisor Michael Flynn had been instructed by Trump to contact Russian sources prior to the 2016 election. That turned out to be false. Flynn had been in contact with the Russians on his own accord, which he later lied about to Congress and was subsequently fired for by Trump.

Ross apologized for the inaccurate report and was suspended.

But to Trump, who remains in the crosshairs of a Russian collusion investigation headed by former FBI leader Robert Mueller — with Flynn cooperating as part of a plea agreement — the grievance remains personal.

“Iger, where is my call of apology? You and ABC have offended millions of people, and they demand a response. How is Brian Ross doing? He tanked the market with an ABC lie, yet no apology. Double Standard!” Trump tweeted May 31.

Iger, who seeks to acquire 20th Century Fox Film in a deal that would require regulatory approval, has not responded. Nor should he.

Rudy Giuliani Says Trump ‘Denied’ AT&T, Time Warner Merger

NEWS ANALYSIS — Depending on what side of the political aisle you walk, Rudy Giuliani is either a gift that keeps on giving or a self-inflicted wound that won’t heal.

The former mayor of New York and newest member of President Donald Trump’s legal team is either carrying out a shrewd scorched-earth policy in the media, or an idiot who can’t keep his mouth shut.

In a May 11 interview with The HuffPost, Giuliani was defending allegations that Trump’s personal lawyer and problem “fixer,” Michael Cohen, had not influenced the president on the AT&T, Time Warner $85 billion merger.

AT&T has admitted paying Cohen $600,000 as a consultant to help ascertain Trump’s mindset on corporate mergers — notably its own — a move CEO Randall Stephenson has apologized for.

“Whatever lobbying [in favor of the merger] was done didn’t reach the president,” Giuliani said. “The president denied the merger. They didn’t get the result they wanted.”

Technically, Trump hasn’t denied anything. A federal judge in June will decide whether the merger goes through.

Yet, Giuliani’s comment is significant considering the White House has refuted getting involved in the M&A that would give AT&T control of Time Warner, whose assets include Warner Bros., Turner (TNT, TBS and CNN) and HBO.

While Trump argued against the merger on the campaign trail, a sitting president usually doesn’t get involved in M&A activity before the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit against the merger, claiming it was bad for consumers. Trump, of course, has railed publicly against CNN, claiming the news organization peddles “fake news” about his administration.

“If Giuliani didn’t misspeak, this is major news,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, tweeted May 11, as reported by CNN.

Of course, misspeaking has become a hallmark of Giuliani, who earlier this month made news when he told Fox News that Trump had personally reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election about an alleged 2006 affair.

“That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds,” said Giuliani. “Michael would take care of things like this like I take care of this with my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.”

Those comments resulted in Giuliani taking a leave of absence from the law firm he worked for — Greenberg Traurig, a leave that is now permanent.

Greenberg Traurig May 10 issued a statement — first reported by The New York Times — saying its lawyers do not send secretive payments for clients.

“We cannot speak for Mr. Giuliani with respect to what was intended by his remarks,” read the statement. “Speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and direction of a client.”

Corporate Apology Tour Goes Public Following Michael Cohen Hire

NEWS ANALYSIS – Showtime’s compelling drama, “Billions,” showcases fictional machinations and strange bedfellows underscoring Wall Street greed and political malfeasance.

A setting apparently not unlike corporate America operating under President Donald Trump.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson May 11 became the second senior executive to apologize to employees for corporate decisions related to the hiring of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen to gain better insight into the president’s mindset and executive decision making.

Media reports say AT&T paid Cohen $600,000 to assuage Trump on the merits of its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., Turner and HBO.

Trump, on the campaign, had voiced opposition toward the merger – a stance many observers attributed more to his dislike of CNN, which is owned by Turner, than concern for consumers.

The AT&T/Time Warner deal appeared heading to regulatory closure when the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit in opposition. A federal judge will rule on the matter in June.

Cohen, of course, is much more than a lawyer and confidante for Trump. His skills reportedly revolve around “fixing” Trump’s problems – including an alleged 2006 affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, in which Cohen facilitated a $130,000 hush payment to Daniels before the 2016 election.

The AT&T/Cohen connection was first disclosed by The New York Times.

Calling the matter, a PR blunder, Stephenson, in a letter to employees, said the decision had damaged AT&T’s reputation and put the telecom in the headlines for “all the wrong reasons.”

“There is no other way to say it, AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake,” Stephenson wrote.

Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan the same day issued a similar memo to employees after it was disclosed the pharmaceutical giant paid Cohen $1.7 million for guidance regarding Trump’s approach to healthcare policies.

“We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence, are being criticized by a world that expects more from us,” Narasimhan wrote, as reported by CNBC.