Innovation or a Monopoly? AT&T, Time Warner Go Before Senate

FILE - In this June 18, 2014, file photo, Jeffrey Bewkes, Chairman and CEO of Time Warner, attends the Cannes Lions 2014, 61st International Advertising Festival in Cannes, southern France. The CEOs of AT&T and Time Warner are heading to Capitol Hill in a bid to convince senators that a merger of their two companies will mean innovative new experiences for consumers. The CEOs, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and Bewkes of Time Warner, are due to appear Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, before a Senate antitrust panel whose Republican chairman and senior Democrat have said the proposed $85.4 billion merger of the communications giants would potentially raise significant antitrust issues. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

In this June 18, 2014, photo, Jeffrey Bewkes, Chairman and CEO of Time Warner, attends the Cannes Lions 2014, 61st International Advertising Festival in Cannes, southern France.(AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

WASHINGTON – The CEOs of AT&T and Time Warner are heading to Capitol Hill in a bid to convince senators that a merger of their two companies will mean innovative new experiences for consumers.

They can expect a skeptical audience.

The CEOs, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner, are due to appear Wednesday before a Senate antitrust panel whose Republican chairman and senior Democrat have said the proposed $85.4 billion merger of the communications giants would potentially raise significant antitrust issues.

Other critics range from industry analysts and public-interest groups to President-elect Donald Trump, who promised on the campaign trail that he’d kill the deal because it concentrates too much “power in the hands of too few.”

Stephenson, however, said Tuesday he is confident the deal will be approved despite Trump’s public opposition.

The deal, which must win approval from federal regulators, would be one of the biggest media mergers to date. It would tie up the second-largest U.S. telecommunications company with a media and entertainment conglomerate whose stable includes CNN, HBO, the “Harry Potter” franchise and pro basketball. It’s a big-time bet on synergy between a company that distributes information and entertainment to consumers and one that produces it.

The Justice Department, and possibly also the Federal Communications Commission in the incoming Trump administration will give the merger close scrutiny. Even assuming the deal is approved, some experts believe the regulators might saddle the combined company with so many conditions that the deal would no longer make sense.

The Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust doesn’t have authority to rule on the merger, but members are likely to use their platform to ask questions such as whether the companies would not share Time Warner content with other cable companies or online video providers.

Time Warner makes TV shows and movies, while AT&T gets that video to customers’ computers, phones and TVs. The concern is that AT&T might try to make its broadband service stand out by tying it to Time Warner’s programs and films, hurting consumers.

Because of Time Warner’s shows and movies – including “Game of Thrones” and the “Harry Potter” films – and AT&T’s ability to gather information about its tens of millions of customers, AT&T thinks it could do a better job tailoring ads and video to user preferences. It could then create more attractive subscription packages suited for phones, where people are increasingly watching video.

But many consumers already consider ads that know everything about them creepy or invasive, and digital-rights groups complain that any preferential deal AT&T could offer with, say, HBO would hurt competition.

Billionaire sports and media mogul Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, is expected to join the CEOs at Wednesday’s hearing. He has said the merger would enhance competition and also is expected to testify in favor.




High Court Will Hear Appeal Over High ATM Fees

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear an appeal from Visa and MasterCard seeking to throw out a lawsuit accusing the credit card companies of illegally fixing ATM prices.

The justices on Tuesday agreed to review an appeals court ruling that said the antitrust case against the companies and three major banks could go forward.

A group of consumers and independent ATM operators argue that payment processors illegally coordinated with Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. to adopt anticompetitive fees.

A federal judge dismissed the case in 2013, but a federal appeals court revived the claims last year.

The lawsuit claims the companies impose contract terms that prevent independent ATM operators from charging lower fees when consumers use debit cards that access cheaper processing networks.

NILES, IL - MAY 25: A MasterCard sticker, above a Visa card sticker, is seen on a glass window of a store May 25, 2006 at its store in Niles, Illinois. MasterCard shares were reportedly up today after its IPO yesterday. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)




EU Expands Battle with Google with Android Antitrust Probe

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is broadening its battle with Google, alleging that the technology giant rigs the global market for mobile apps by making its Android operating system give preferential treatment to its own products.

EU Antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Wednesday that “Google’s behavior denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation.”

The Android operating system is designed to feature Google’s search engine, maps, Gmail, YouTube video service and other products that give the company more opportunities to sell digital ads. Device makers don’t have to use Android as Google sets it up, but European regulators are looking into complaints that the company penalizes those that deviate from Google’s favored design.

android_vectorVestager kicked off what is likely to be a protracted legal battle with a so-called Statement of Objections accusing Google it uses its high market share to force its apps on customers. Vestager said Wednesday’s move in no way prejudges the outcome of its investigation.

“It is an interim step and not the end of the road,” said Vestager.

The 28-nation EU also has other investigations against Google, with the biggest centering on its search services.

Google strongly denied the charges and said it was looking “forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate that Android is good for competition and good for consumers.”

As an indication how big the latest issue is, four out of every five smartphones and tablets globally, and in the European market, use Android. Google has stormed the market since it began eight years ago to give away its Android software for free to manufacturers try to counter the runaway success of Apple’s iPhone.

Now, Android powers billions of mobile devices, largely because it doesn’t cost phone and tablet makers anything to use the software.

“Dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their position,” said Vestager. “Google has abused its dominant position.”

Google is based in Mountain View, California, and is owned by Alphabet Inc.

By The Associated Press




DACO Blasted for not Publishing Wholesale Gasoline Prices

SAN JUAN – The president of the Gasoline Retailers Association, Luis SepĂșlveda, accused the Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym) of abandoning the practice of publishing the gasoline price imposed by wholesalers.

SepĂșlveda said that due to the action, retailers decided to conduct a survey to publish the price of gasoline themselves.

“I guess [DACO] got a lot of pressure from wholesalers,” SepĂșlveda said in a WSKN-radio interview, noting that the prices had not been published since June.

He said that, “at that time, the liter went up one cent, and as soon as we organized ourselves and published the price, it dropped a penny.”

DACO Secretary Nery Adames denied it was the wholesalers and said it was Antitrust Affairs Office advisers who presented an objection to the practice.

“We took down that page because the Antitrust Affairs Office said it was not a good practice to be showing the prices of wholesale competitors,” Adames explained, while assuring that, “because of that advice, guidance and consulting from the Antitrust Affairs Office, DACO took the information from the webpage down.”

Adames said consumers are not interested in knowing the pricing between wholesalers and instead “care about at how much retailers are selling,” adding that DACO provides that information on its website.

By Inter News Service