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Liz Rose, Communications Director, 202-265-1490 x 32
Today consumer and industry groups concerned with the proposed
Comcast-NBC Universal merger called on Comcast Corp. to back up its new
promises of good behavior before Congress by withdrawing from its court
attack against the Federal Communications Commission on critical
pro-competition rules for the pay-TV distribution market.
"Under pressure from merger critics, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts
belatedly promised Congress that his company would abide by FCC program
access rules even if the courts declared them invalid," said Corie Wright,
policy counsel for Free Press. "Why would Comcast continue to spend
shareholder dollars trying to overturn an FCC regulation that its CEO
promises to follow regardless of the case's outcome? The fact that
Comcast didn't withdraw from the litigation raises concerns about
whether Comcast can be trusted to follow through on its commitment."
"Comcast seems to be promising federal regulators that it will abide
by the same rules that it now, in federal court, is seeking to have
thrown out," added Larry Cohen, president of the
Communications Workers of America. "What does it say about Comcast's
overall 'public interest commitments' when it so clearly is working to
undercut public policy for program access."
In the 1992 Cable Act, Congress adopted program access requirements
to ensure that competing multichannel video programming distributors
(MVPDs) had guaranteed access to satellite-delivered cable programming
owned or controlled by large incumbent cable operators like Comcast.
Twice renewed by the FCC, these pro-competition rules ensure that
programming distributors -- especially smaller, rural providers -- are
not cut off from video programming vital to their competitive success
in the marketplace.
On Dec. 3, 2009, Comcast and NBC Universal announced their $30
billion merger and agreed to an assortment of commitments that are
insufficient to address the serious public interest harms that will be
caused by this combining of media giants.
One of Comcast-NBCU's commitments dealt with applying FCC program
access rules to retransmission consent negotiations with NBC
owned-and-operated TV stations. The commitment would last, Comcast and
NBCU advised the public, "for as long as the FCC's current program
access rules remain in place."
Conspicuously absent from Comcast-NBCU's list of promises was any
acknowledgment that Comcast is at the same time asking the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to toss out the most meaningful feature
of the program access rules: The ban on exclusive contracts between
cable operators and affiliated cable networks delivered via satellite.
"What Comcast conveniently failed to tell regulators is that it has
no intention of letting the FCC rules remain in place," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman,
president and CEO of Media Access Project. "If Comcast is successful in
eliminating the ban, the FCC's current program access rules would no
longer exist, and Comcast's commitment will have vanished before the
merger review is even concluded."
It remains to be seen whether Comcast will also challenge the FCC's
newly adopted regulations closing the so-called terrestrial loophole in
the program access rules. Until recently, the program access rules
covered programming delivered only by satellite. But these new rules
extend the program access regime to programming transmitted
terrestrially -- a change critical to ensuring that Comcast can't lock
up regional sports programming. Comcast opposed the adoption of the
rules during the FCC rulemaking proceeding.
"If Comcast challenges the application of these new rules in court
or at the FCC, it would further undermine the company's promise of good
behavior," said Jill Canfield, senior regulatory
counsel for the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association.
"Comcast has said that that program access rules are enough to protect
competition if the merger is approved -- but that's not very reassuring
so long as the company continues to chip away at these very same
Read the full letter here: www.freepress.net/file/Comcast_Program_Access_Litigation_Letter.pdf
The signatories to the letter are:
The American Cable Association
Communications Workers of America
Consumer Federation of America
Media Access Project
The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association
The Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies
The Rural Independent Competitive Alliance
The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association
The Sports Fan Coalition
Free Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what's actually happening in their communities.(202) 265-1490
"With a warming climate and some drier seasons," said one ecology expert, "this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia."
Officials and climate experts in Nova Scotia, Canada on Tuesday pointed to numerous climate-related factors that have contributed to the wildfires that are raging in the province this week, forcing the evacuation of more than 16,000 people and destroying roughly 200 homes and other structures.
The Tantallon fire in the Halifax area and the Barrington Lake fire in the southwestern county of Shelburne have burned through a combined 25,000 acres in the Maritime province, which, as one firefighter told the Canadian newspaper SaltWire, has historically been far less likely to experience such blazes than landlocked western provinces.
"This the worst fire I've ever been on," volunteer firefighter Capt. Brett Tetanish toldSaltWire. "I've been on other large fires in Nova Scotia, Porters Lake, we lost structures there, but you don't see fires like this in Nova Scotia. You see these in Alberta."
Tetanish described a "surreal" scene as he drove toward the Tantallon fire on Sunday evening.
"We're driving on Hammonds Plains Road with fire on both sides of the road, structures on fire, cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road," he toldSaltWire.
Other witnesses, including a filmmaker, posted videos on social media of "apocalyptic scenes" showing fires destroying homes and huge plumes of smoke rendering highways nearly invisible to drivers.
"I almost died," said the filmmaker. "The fire is spreading, it's very serious. We couldn't see anything."
\u201c"Guys, we... I almost died."\n\nA filmmaker in Canada has captured the intensity and spread of wildfires raging in Nova Scotia, as he drove down a highway \u2935\ufe0f\u201d— Al Jazeera English (@Al Jazeera English) 1685412001
Halfway through 2023, Nova Scotia has already experienced more wildfires than it did in all of 2022, according to the National Observer.
Karen McKendry, a wilderness outreach coordinator at the Ecology Action Center in Nova Scotia's capital, Halifax, told the Observer the province has experienced hotter dryer weather than normal this spring, making it easier for fires to spread.
"People haven't always, on a national scale, been thinking about Nova Scotia and wildfires," McKendry said. "What dominates the consciousness, rightly so in Canada, is what's happening out West. But with a warming climate and some drier seasons, this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia. So more fires, more widespread fires, more destructive fires from a human perspective as well."
The province's Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) also warned last Friday that the wildfires were taking hold in the region less than a year after Hurricane Fiona downed what Premier Tim Houston called a "significant" number of trees across Nova Scotia.
"Fires in areas where Hurricane Fiona downed trees have the potential to move faster and burn more intensely, making them potentially more difficult to contain and control," said the DNRR. "At this time, needles, twigs, leaves, etc., support fire ignition and spread. With high winds, the spread can be rapid and intense."
Scientists last year linked warming oceans, fueled by the continued extraction of fossil fuels and emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases, to Fiona's destruction in Eastern Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Monday that the situation in Nova Scotia is "incredibly serious," prompting Saman Tabasinejad, acting executive director of Progress Toronto, to point to Trudeau's support for fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
"This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a Green New Deal!" Tabasinejad said on Twitter.
\u201cIt's only May and the wildfire situation is out of control. Alberta is on fire. Nova Scotia is on fire. This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a green new deal!\u201d— Saman Tabasinejad (@Saman Tabasinejad) 1685372018
More than 200 crews have been sent by government agencies from across the province, and Nova Scotia officials said Tuesday that both the Tantallon and Barrington Lake fires were still "out of control" two days after they began and were "rapidly moving."
Halifax Fire and the DNRR are investigating the cause of the fires.
McKendry pointed out that a number of anti-conservation activities may be linked to increased wildfires.
Roads being built "deep into our forests" have allowed more people opportunities to accidentally set fires, while the government has been "emptying our urban areas of wetlands," making it easier for blazes to spread widely.
"Do not delude yourself into thinking this is a one-off," journalist John Vaillant toldSaltWire on Monday. "The world is more flammable than it has ever been."
"Soft money undermines federal campaign finance laws because it is, by definition, money raised and spent outside the scope of those laws."
A campaign finance watchdog on Tuesday filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, alleging that the 2024 Republican presidential candidate unlawfully transferred or directed more than $80 million from a state political action committee to a super PAC supporting his White House bid.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) says in its complaint that the reported transfer of funds from the state committee—formerly known as "Friends of Ron DeSantis"—to the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down runs afoul of rules barring political candidates from spending so-called "soft money" on federal elections.
"For over twenty years, the Federal Election Campaign Act ('FECA') has prohibited federal candidates like DeSantis, along with their agents and entities they establish, finance, maintain, or control, from spending 'soft money'—including, e.g., money raised by nonfederal committees and organizations that are not subject to federal campaign finance laws—in connection with a federal election," reads the complaint.
"The transfer of this colossal sum from a state PAC that DeSantis established and used to raise over $225 million, to a federal committee that has spent, and plans to continue spending, millions of dollars supporting DeSantis' own campaign is a brazen attempt to circumvent the federal campaign finance rules that are crucial to preventing corruption and establishing transparency about how our federal elections are financed," the filing continues.
CLC announced the complaint just days after DeSantis formally launched his presidential campaign in a glitch-filled Twitter livestream with billionaire Elon Musk.
Saurav Ghosh, CLC's director of federal campaign finance reform, said in a statement that "soft money undermines federal campaign finance laws because it is, by definition, money raised and spent outside the scope of those laws."
"We're talking about funds from billionaires and corporate special interests who could exert massive influence over the candidate they are financing," said Ghosh. "Laws banning these funds from being used to seek federal office are there for a reason—to prevent corruption, promote transparency, and ensure that wealthy special interests can’t rig the system even further in their favor."
The FEC is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, and the agency has not acted on recent complaints alleging campaign finance violations by high-profile political figures—including former President Donald Trump, also a 2024 candidate.
\u201cNEW: @CampaignLegal files a complaint with the @FEC alleging @GovRonDeSantis and his state PAC violated the federal \u201csoft money\u201d ban by transferring over $80M to federal super PAC @NvrBackDown24, which plans to spend over $200M supporting DeSantis in 2024. https://t.co/YoioGHpJYr\u201d— Saurav Ghosh (@Saurav Ghosh) 1685454060
The DeSantis campaign insists it has not done anything illegal because the governor is no longer officially associated with the state PAC that until recently bore his name. The committee is now called the "Empower Parents PAC" and chaired by Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a DeSantis ally.
Critics have scoffed at the notion that the state PAC's decision to shift tens of millions of dollars to a pro-DeSantis super PAC—which is barred by law from coordinating directly with any candidate—would be made independently of DeSantis. Never Back Down is run by some of the Florida governor's "closest friends," according toThe Wall Street Journal.
"The idea that Ron DeSantis is no longer controlling or associated with 'Friends of Ron DeSantis' is absurd," journalist Judd Legum wrote earlier this month in his newsletter Popular Information. "And the notion that the money held by Friends of Ron DeSantis will decide to transfer its funds to Never Back Down independent of DeSantis is not credible."
In its complaint, CLC notes that on the same day that DeSantis launched his campaign, "Never PAC confirmed that it has received or will soon receive $80 million from Friends of Ron DeSantis, and that the super PAC had factored that major contribution—comprising 40% of its budget—into their plans."
The complaint points to a May New York Timesstory reporting that top officials with Never Back Down said they "expected to have an overall budget of at least $200 million, including more than $80 million to be transferred from an old DeSantis state political account."
"Indeed, for weeks before DeSantis’s candidacy announcement, Never PAC officials had reportedly been 'telling donors they intend to push the bounds' of super PAC support, laying out plans to raise and spend 'about $200 million' to support DeSantis' presidential campaign, including 'the more than $85 million that DeSantis has in a state fundraising account,' i.e., Friends of Ron DeSantis," the complaint states. "Never PAC has been using and/or reportedly intends to use this soft money in connection with a federal election by making over $944,000 in independent expenditures supporting DeSantis."
Further making a mockery of the campaign finance regime ushered in by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, the pro-DeSantis super PAC has reportedly "raised $500,000 into a separate draft committee that is expected to be transferred directly to [the Florida governor's presidential] campaign in the coming days."
CBS Newsreported over the weekend that Never Back Down "has been encouraging donors to contribute online to the 'Draft DeSantis 2024 Fund,' a super PAC created in early March to house money from DeSantis donors until his campaign launch. Super PACs can raise unlimited funds, but they are generally considered expenditure-only, meaning they cannot contribute directly to a candidate."
Ghosh, a former FEC enforcement attorney, expressed dismay over the fundraising scheme in a series of tweets on Sunday.
"Super PACs—required by law to remain 'independent' of candidates—are now raising money for presidential campaigns. What a time to be alive," Ghosh wrote. "When the Supreme Court, in Citizens United, struck down longstanding campaign finance laws and opened the door to massive outside spending and super PACs, the justices said this spending would not cause corruption because it would be independent of candidates."
"So much for that," he added.
"The great contradiction of this debt ceiling deal is that, while poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death, this deal will make it harder to get food stamps but easier to spend money on war."
Hundreds of thousands of older Americans could soon be at risk of losing federal food aid and falling deeper into poverty due to a provision of the new debt ceiling agreement that expands work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a change that comes as food banks across the United States are seeing demand surge.
The deal that the Biden White House reached with House Republicans over the weekend would broaden the age range of SNAP recipients required to perform a certain amount of work or employment training each week. Under current law, SNAP recipients between the ages of 18 and 49 who don't have dependents and are deemed able-bodied must demonstrate that they are working or taking part in work training for at least 20 hours a week to continue receiving benefits.
People who don't meet the work requirements are often limited to just three months of SNAP benefits every three years—a time limit that was suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic but is now returning, putting millions at risk of losing aid.
The debt ceiling agreement, if approved by Congress, would raise the work requirement age ceiling to 54, a change that anti-hunger activists say builds on a punitive policy that has proven ineffective at boosting employment. The deal's work requirement expansion will sunset in 2030.
Republicans were adamant that the agreement include additional work requirements for recipients of SNAP and other aid programs for poor Americans, even as their party worked to shield wealthy tax cheats and pile more money into the Pentagon's coffers.
"The great contradiction of this debt ceiling deal is that, while poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death, this deal will make it harder to get food stamps but easier to spend money on war," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign.
Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, warned Monday that the new rules "will only deepen hunger and poverty" for older adults who are unemployed or underemployed. Most adult SNAP recipients work, but their jobs are often highly precarious and low-paying.
"Cutting off food for people unless they document sufficient hours of work does not improve their chances to secure family-sustaining wages, but does increase their food hardship," said Guardia. "Food is a basic human right and should not have a time limit. The most meaningful, effective, and equitable relief is to pass H.R. 1510 for a permanent end to SNAP time limits on all groups."
"This provision ignores the strong evidence that it takes food assistance away from large numbers of people without increasing employment or earnings."
Advocates fear that an expansion of SNAP work requirements and the debt ceiling agreement's caps on federal spending will compound the nation's growing hunger crisis. A recent Feeding America survey found that a majority of U.S. food banks reported growing demand in March following the termination of an emergency SNAP benefit expansion enacted in the early stages of the pandemic.
SNAP recipients now receive around $6 a day per person on average, leaving many struggling to afford enough food—particularly as prices remain elevated.
The White House has touted the debt limit deal's exemption of veterans and people who are homeless from SNAP work requirements, but policy analysts said that doesn't justify imposing the mandates on others.
Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the new SNAP work rules would put "hundreds of thousands of older adults aged 50-54 at risk of losing food assistance, including a large number of women."
"Doubling down on the existing, failed SNAP work-reporting requirement for adults aged 18-49 without children, this provision ignores the strong evidence that it takes food assistance away from large numbers of people without increasing employment or earnings," said Parrott.
"A large share of low-income adults in this age range are in poor health; many of them will lose basic assistance they need to buy groceries because they aren't able to meet the work-reporting requirement; and the exemption system, notoriously laden with red tape, won't work," she continued. "Decades of experience under the existing policy shows that many of those whose SNAP benefits are taken away should have been exempt. Those newly at risk of losing food assistance have very low incomes, typically well below the poverty line, and will be pushed even deeper into poverty when they lose SNAP."
Progressive lawmakers expressed outrage at the GOP's proposed work requirements during the negotiation process, but it's unclear if they will oppose the debt ceiling legislation because of the rules included in the final agreement.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Sunday that SNAP work requirements are "absolutely terrible policy."
"I think it is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this," Jayapal added.