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Comcast Ready for ‘Tough Questions’ at Senate Hearing Comcast Ready for ‘Tough Questions’ at Senate Hearing

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Comcast Ready for ‘Tough Questions’ at Senate Hearing

Welcome to National Journal's Tech Edge, a morning tip sheet with the news you need in technology policy, featuring a roundup of the best coverage and exclusive tips for the day ahead. Got this by forward? Sign up at

By Alex Brown (@AlexBrownNJ), Laura Ryan (@NJLJRyan), Brendan Sasso (@BrendanSasso), and Dustin Volz (@dnvolz)


TODAY'S TOP PARAGRAPH: Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives will defend their merger at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler warned broadcasters that they need to innovate or they will die out. Tech companies are urging the White House not to conflate NSA spying with consumer privacy issues. Senators still haven't agreed on patent legislation, and researchers have discovered a bug in a widespread security tool.


SENATORS TO GRILL CABLE EXECS: David Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, isn't anticipating a cakewalk at today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "We expect a rigorous review. We expect tough questions from members of Congress," he told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.

Congress has no formal role in merger reviews, but if Democrats line up against the deal, it could pressure regulators to block it. The fact that the full committee will hold the hearing (instead of the Antitrust Subcommittee) could be an indication that Chairman Patrick Leahy is particularly interested. According to excerpts of his opening statement, the Vermont Democrat will note that the cable industry plays a "dominant role" in how people get information, and he will express interest in the deal's impact on net neutrality.


"This merger also raises important questions about diverse and independent video programming, and promoting a vibrant marketplace for online video," Leahy will say.

COMPETITION EVERYWHERE!: Comcast made its case for the deal in its official application with the FCC on Tuesday. In addition to promising faster Internet, the company claimed that it is already fighting tooth-and-nail with a host of video companies and Internet providers. That might seem like a strange claim, considering that both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are regional monopolists for cable service. But in the filing, the companies argued that DSL and cell-phone service are full-blown competitors to cable companies for Internet access. Comcast's Cohen pointed to Google Fiber (which is available in only a handful of markets), saying it "will force us to up our game." The cable companies argued that their TV packages have to compete with video offerings from Netflix, Amazon, Google, and Apple. Whether regulators agree to take a broad view of competition in the video and Internet marketplaces will be critical for whether the deal wins approval.

PATENT ACTION DELAYED AGAIN: The Senate Judiciary again pushed back markup of its reform measure until at least Thursday—the third such delay in two weeks. And as the delays extend, the cross-aisle rhetoric is losing that loving feeling of the recent past. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Judiciary panel, accused committee Republicans of failing to provide "constructive feedback" on a proposed compromise measure from Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. Sen. John Cornyn—a Texas Republican at the forefront of his party's pro-patent-reform bloc—shot back, saying that negotiations have "developed into a fight between Senate Democrats."

All of the back-and-forth have stakeholders wondering: Can the committee reach an agreement before Congress leaves for a two-week recess on Friday? (Volz, NJ)


DEMAND LETTER BILL LIKELY COMING TO HOUSE: Rep. Lee Terry, chair of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade, looks ready to begin drafting a measure on demand letters, despite expected headwinds from both Democrats and Republicans. "It's likely that we would draft something in the near future," the Nebraska Republican said during a hearing on the topic Tuesday. Sen. Claire McCaskill introduced a demand letter bill in her chamber in February that has yet to see any movement, despite initial plans for a speedy markup.

WHEELER TO BROADCASTERS: 'LET'S TALK': FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler faced a tough crowd Tuesday at the second day of the National Association of Broadcasters' annual conference. After trying to convince broadcasters he wasn't the enemy ("I know what you're thinking: Gordon Smith and Tom Wheeler mano-y-mano in Las Vegas…"), he told them to start innovating or get left behind. He urged broadcasters to take advantage of opportunities presented by broadband and over-the-top services before its too late, and use money from the upcoming incentive auction to foot the bill for those investments.

"The open-Internet rules should be seen as an 'open sesame' for the expansion beyond your local license—to move from the 'television' business to the 'information' business," Wheeler said.

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HOUSE PRIVACY GROUP EXAMINES FTC: The House Privacy Working Group turned its focus to the FTC during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. Democratic FTC Commissioner Julie Brill and Republican FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen made presentations to the group of lawmakers, who are all on the Energy and Commerce Committee. The lawmakers, led by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, discussed the FTC's role in privacy protection, whether there are gaps in authority that Congress should address, and future privacy issues.

FCC REPORT BILL DROPPED: The Senate Commerce Committee has removed the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act from its agenda for today's markup. The bill would eliminate certain annual reports the agency is currently required to produce.


TECH URGES OBAMA NOT TO CONFLATE PRIVACY ISSUES: Tech companies are asking the White House not to compare NSA spying to their own data-mining practices. (Sasso)

KEY SECURITY TOOL BROKEN: Security researchers discovered a vulnerability called "Heartbleed" in OpenSSL, which powers encryption for two-thirds of the Web. (Nicole Perlroth, NYT)

SO, WHAT IS HEARTBLEED EXACTLY?: What is SSL? What is the Heartbleed Bug? Is it bad? Tim Lee has the answers for you. (Tim Lee, Vox)

LEAHY ASKS IF FAKE TWITTER TAINTS USAID: Sen. Leahy got mad about the USAID fake Twitter debacle during an appropriations hearing with the agency's administrator. (Brian Resnick, NJ)

THE REAL SNOWDEN: A sneak peak at Vanity Fair's 20,000-word story about Edward Snowden. (Vanity Fair)

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SKEPTICAL OF BITCOIN: Attorney General Eric Holder said creative solutions will be needed to protect cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin from criminals. (Aruna Viswanatha, Reuters)

R.I.P WINDOWS XP: Microsoft ends its support for Windows XP this week, creating a hacker's paradise. (The Economist)


  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its hearing on the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger at 10 a.m.

  • The Computer & Communications Industry Association will hold its annual Washington Caucus, with remarks from NTIA head Larry Strickling, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill, GOP Sen. John Cornyn, and Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, and Doris Matsui.

  • The House Communications and Technology Subcommittee will have opening statements at 4 p.m. on the DOTCOM Act, which would require a government study of the administration's plan to give up oversight of Internet address functions. The panel will vote on the bill on Thursday.

  • The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on the Driver Privacy Act (S. 1925) at 2:30 p.m.

  • The World Bank will hold a seminar on digital finance at 11:15 a.m.

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Love it - first thing I read in the morning."

Amy, VP of Communications

I read the Tech Edge every morning."

Ashley, Senior Media Associate

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