Donald Trump

FCC Chairman Opposes Government-Backed 5G

Ajit Pai net neutrality vote

WASHINGTON — FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he opposes any proposal in which the federal government would be tasked with building and operating a next generation mobile network.

Pai’s announcement came after a report that the Trump administration security officials are considering a plan in which the federal government would build the network and lease access to private providers. Axios reported that the rationale behind the plan is to ensure cybersecurity, particularly the threat of China.

But such a plan to nationalize the wireless network conflicts with much of the philosophy of Pai and other Republican members of the FCC, which is that private enterprise is better equipped to build out a network. The reasoning for the recent repeal of the net neutrality rules was that government regulation was choking off investment by telecom and cable providers in new technology.

“I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network,” Pai said in a statement. “The main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades — including American leadership in 4G — is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”

Donald Trump

Five Things to Watch for at Trump’s State of the Union

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Pai added, “What government can and should do is to push spectrum into the commercial marketplace and set rules that encourage the private sector to develop and deploy next-generation infrastructure. Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future.”

Major telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon are testing 5G technology, which will be able to handle much greater amounts of data than the current networks. It’s expected to usher in a new era of connectivity for use in transportation, medicine and emergency services.

Pai last year established the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, and it has focused in part on efforts to close the digital divide, including expansion of private networks into rural and low income areas.

Michael O’Rielly, another Republican on the FCC, also said he opposed any effort to nationalize the 5G network.

“I’ve seen lead balloons tried in D.C. before but this is like a balloon made out of a Ford Pinto,” he said. “If accurate, the Axios story suggests options that may be under consideration by the administration that are nonsensical and do not recognize the current marketplace. Instead, U.S. commercial wireless companies are the envy of the world and are already rushing ahead to lead in 5G. I plan to do everything in my power to provide the necessary resources, including allocating additional spectrum and preempting barriers to deployment, to allow this private sector success to continue.”

Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat on the FCC, also disagreed with the idea of nationalizing 5G.

“The United States’ leadership in the deployment of 5G is critical and must be done right,” she said. “Localities have a central role to play; the technical expertise possessed by industry should be utilized; and cybersecurity must be a core consideration. A network built by the federal government, I fear, does not leverage the best approach needed for our nation to win the 5G race.”

 

Michael MooreCelebreties attend 'The People's State

Five Things to Watch for at Trump’s State of the Union

Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — The most important part of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address is may be what happens afterward.

That doesn’t mean the Democratic response, delivered this year by Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), or one that is planned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Nor is it the flurry of commentary that will follow, as his speech gets digested, picked apart, and fact-checked.

Rather, it is Trump himself who has tended to tweet, improvise or say something in the day or so after a major address that changes the message. Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s press secretary, noted this at a Washington Post State of the Union preview on Monday, telling the audience that even though the president has plenty of accomplishments, “the problem with President Trump is, it is often of his own making.”

The State of the Union speech is expected to focus on “building a safe, strong, and proud America,” in the words of a senior administration official, touching on the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade, and national security. “The tone will be one of bipartisanship. It will be very forward-looking,” the official says.

Michael MooreCelebreties attend 'The People's State

Michael Moore Calls For a Cultural Clean-Sweep at Starry ‘People’s State of the Union’

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to Step Down

What will be a surprise is if Trump talks at all about Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and, in turn, congressional Republican efforts to respond with their own probe of the government “deep state.” But the ongoing intrigue, unfolding several times during each news day, may be a temptation for Trump to tweet something that changes the subject from the rosy message and, at least among Republicans, enthusiastic response he will probably get from his speech.

So here are five things to look out for on Tuesday night:

— The speech. If Trump follows what he did last year, when he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress, he will largely stick to the TelePrompter — and do well with it. That’s why there is every expectation that Trump will deliver a speech that is aspirational and positive, and will focus heavily on the economy and less so on the discord and division that has marked so much of the past year. The White House sees this as a big chance for Trump to speak to a mass audience “unfiltered” for 60 minutes, an opportunity to try to boost his approval ratings which have sagged in the mid- to upper- 30s. Policy-wise, there are a lot of questions surrounding the details of one of Trump’s major legislative initiatives this year, a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which already is facing a lot of doubt among Democratic mayors and other lawmakers. The most controversial part of his speech is likely to be when he talks about immigration. Trump will pitch the White House plan as offering protection to “Dreamers,” but Democrats hate it because it scales back legal immigration, while some on the far right say it grants amnesty.

— The guests. President Ronald Reagan in 1982 invited Lenny Skutnik to sit in the presidential box during the speech, and then referred to him by name during the State of the Union address. Skutnik saved the life of a woman passenger who had to be rescued from the icy Potomac where an Air Florida flight had crashed. That moment started a tradition of presidents inviting notable guests to their boxes, often for purposes of referring to them by name to make some policy point or strike some kind of emotional connection. This year, Trump’s guests include first responders, crime victims, military veterans, an ICE agent, a blue-collar worker, and a small business owner. The tradition has spread to other lawmakers as well. Almost two dozen “Dreamers” will be there as guests of Democratic lawmakers, and others are bringing those involved in the MeToo movement. Kennedy is bringing a transgender soldier, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, while Bill Nye is coming as a guest of Rep. Jim Brindenstine (R-Okla.), whose nomination to serve as the next NASA administrator has run into opposition.

— No shows. Some very prominent lawmakers, like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) are not attending out of protest of Trump. “The American people have been subjected to a year of racist, erratic, and divisive behavior from their Commander in Chief, and I refuse to accept that as the new normal,” Schakowsky said in a statement. Also not expected at the State of the Union is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who has been on a speaking tour. As partisan divisions have hardened in recent years, it’s not all that unusual for justices to skip the speech.

— The reaction. Last year, when Trump gave his first speech to Congress, there was some criticism from the left that pundits were essentially grading Trump on a curve. In other words, just because his SOTU was not like one of his campaign rallies, he succeeded. But the emotional high point was when Trump paid tribute to Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in Yemen weeks earlier, as his widow stood for a standing ovation. Those undoubtedly will be the moments that will get the most attention afterward. But late night comics will be at the ready. Stephen Colbert is doing a live, post-SOTU “Late Show” on CBS, as are Trevor Noah and Jordan Klepper on Comedy Central. In addition to the Kennedy and Sanders speeches, there also will be other events tied to anti-Trump activism. Patton Oswalt, Debra Messing and Sarah Silverman will introduce activists from groups like United We Dream, NARAL and the Human Rights Campaign. It will be streamed on NowThisNews.

— The numbers. Here’s a figure to keep in mind: 47.7 million. That is the number of people who watched Trump’s speech to Congress last year, on Feb. 28, according to Nielsen. The highest viewership was for President Bill Clinton’s first address to a joint session of Congress in 1993, which garnered 66.9 million. President Barack Obama’s first speech drew 52.4 million in 2009. Prediction: “I am sure the president is going to talk his numbers,” said Donna Brazile, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, at the Post event.

Michael Moore Calls For a Cultural Clean-Sweep at Starry ‘People’s State of the Union’

Michael MooreCelebreties attend 'The People's State of the Union' event in New York, USA - 29 Jan 2018US fillmmaker Michael Moore attends 'The People's State of the Union' event in New York, New York, USA, 29 January 2018. The 'The People's State of the Union' is a public alternate to tomorrow's State of the Union speech by President Donald Trump, aimed to remark the upcoming year's action plan focusing on voter rights, registration and voter turnout.

Mark Ruffalo invoked a positive vision for America’s future, Common rapped about Trayvon Martin and Michael Moore called for a cultural clean-sweep at “People’s State of the Union,” the Manhattan performance and soapbox that saw a starry array of activists and artists — including Mark Ruffalo, Amy Schumer, Rosie Perez, Cynthia Nixon and John Leguizamo — rally the progressive movement on the night before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. A rowdy, nearly-full house at midtown’s Town Hall turned up for performances by Andra Day, Common and Rufus Wainwright, along with issue-focused speeches by celebrity names and in-the-trenches activists alike.

“We must remove and replace the system and the culture that gave us Trump in the first place,” Moore said in a roof-raising speech toward the end of the evening. “He did not just fall out of the sky and land in Queens. He is the result of a decades-long corporate takeover of our democracy and of us, never correcting the three orignal sins of America: A nation founded on genocide, built on the backs of slaves, and maintained by the subjugation of women.”

“The one silver lining in Trump is that we have created the mother of all movements,” said Ruffalo, one of the event’s organizers, at the start of an evening that touched on threads of activism including the Dream Act, civil rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, women’s rights and labor rights. Nodding to the celebrity that allows him and the other boldface names onstage to bring attention to the activists who spoke during the show, Ruffalo vowed the fight wouldn’t end with the current presidency.

“We’ll strengthen our bonds and commitments to each other for long after the Trump era comes to its rightful end,” he said. “We aren’t stopping with Trump.”

New York City mayor Bill deBlasio also made an appearance to fire up the troops. “You want to know the state of the union? The state of the union is the people are fired up,” he said. “In this age, the people are recognizing their own power.”

Kathy Najimy, introducing the evening’s segment about women’s rights, nodded to Gloria Steinem in the crowd, who got a quick standing ovation from the audience. “F— locker room talk,” she declared, citing #MeToo, pay parity, Time’s Up and the Women’s March, one of the founders of which, Paola Mendoza, was introduced by Najimy.

“The question is, now that this movement has been birthed, how do we sustain it?” Mendoza asked, encouraging the advancement of all progressive issues through marching, protesting and voting. She also called on the Latino community to band together. “Our undocumented brothers and sisters can’t vote, so we must vote for them.” (Later in the evening, speakers Fisher Stevens and Gina Gershon both won T-shirts that said “We are all dreamers.”)

“You put a brother in ‘Star Wars,’” Common said at the podium during a segment about civil rights. “Maybe you need two.” He then introduced Dejuana Thompson, the founder of Woke Vote, the organization that played a role in getting out the vote in the special election in Alabama.

“We are no longer begging to be on your agenda,” Thompson said. “We are creating our own.”

Andra Day performed two tunes, including “Stand Up For Something,” the song from the film “Marshall” she performed with Common. Later in the evening, Rufus Wainwright played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Leguizamo, there for immigrant rights, cracked, “This president makes me long for Ronald Reagan.” He introduced Christina Jimenez of the immigrant youth network United We Dream. “We and our families are undocumented, unafraid, and here to stay,” she said, nodding to the organization’s fight to get the Dream Act passed.

She also spoke out against the immigration plan that Trump would try to sell in the State of the Union. “This Trump plan is nothing more than a white supremacist ransom note,” she said. “We must reject it.”

“Our American democracy is under attack, and we Americans need to not only cherish and protect it, but to fight for it,” said Nixon, calling to protect the Trump-Russia investigation. “We must make the firing of Robert Mueller a stark line in the sand, and if Trump crosses it we must take to the streets as never before and make inaction untenable for every elected leader.”

Moore’s speech culminated in a new to-do list for 2018, a sequel to the list he gave progressives at the same time last year, including a “massive removal of Republicans from the House and the Senate” and supporting the impeachment campaign. “Don’t worry about Pence, first things first,” he said. “Let me take care of Pence!”

The night was a launch event for activist organization We Stand United.

Neil Portnow Grammys

Grammys So Male? ‘Women Need to Step Up,’ Says Recording Academy President

Neil Portnow Grammys

The only woman presented a solo Grammy during the awards telecast on Sunday night? Alessia Cara, who took home best new artist. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow was asked by Variety about #GrammysSoMale and had this to say:

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”

Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich deflected when asked the same question. “It’s not for me to talk about,” he said. “I produce the TV show.” As for whether it was a mistake to not give Album of the Year nominee Lorde an onstage moment, Ehrlich answered: “I don’t know if it was a mistake. These shows are a matter of choices. We have a box and it gets full. She had a great album. There’s no way we can really deal with everybody.”

However, Lisa Loeb, Reba McEntire, Aimee Mann, and Carrie Fisher were among the female winners during the pre-telecast ceremony. Rihanna shared a win with Kendrick Lamar for best rap/sung performance for the song “Loyalty.”

Chris Stapleton, who won best country album, was more diplomatic: “It’s always a hard thing to see things not go somebody’s way,” he said. “And equality is something we have to address on a lot of levels. I can’t really speak to how voters voted and what happened there, but there is a lot of great music being made by a lot of great women. That is the only thing I know and the awards don’t diminsh the art in any way.”

One has to wonder if the attendance of Taylor Swift would have made a difference. Said Ehrlich: “It wasn’t her year. She was kind of off cycle. Hopefully we’ll see her next year.”

Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers

Tom Hanks to Play Mr. Rogers in Biopic ‘You Are My Friend’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers

TriStar Pictures has landed worldwide distribution rights to the Mr. Rogers biopic “You Are My Friend,” with Tom Hanks attached to play the iconic TV personality.

“Diary of a Teenage Girl” director Marielle Heller is helming the pic from a script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster.

“I’m thrilled to be making ‘You Are My Friend,’” Heller said. “The script knocked me out with its message of kindness and its exploration of the human spirit. As a mother, I am so inspired by the teachings of Fred Rogers and as a human I am in awe of his life’s work. I can’t wait to bring his story to the public and be a part of such a thoughtful, smart group of people who are all coming together to make this film, which truly feels to me like an antidote to our very fractured culture.”

The film is inspired by a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and award-winning journalist Tom Junod. In the story, a cynical journalist begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed.

“This is the perfect alchemy of talent coming together at the perfect time to remind us all of the transformative power of kindness and respect to heal and to unite. We are proud to partner with Marielle, Tom and everyone at Big Beach to bring this inspirational true story to audiences all over the world,” said Hannah Minghella, president of TriStar Pictures.

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Big Beach Films is producing with Marc Turtletaub and Peter Saraf producing for the company alongside Youree Henley (“The Beguiled”). Leah Holzer of Big Beach will executive produce, along with Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster. The project originated from a true story developed by Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster, first appearing on the Black List in 2013.

“Now more than ever, we all need a re-introduction to Fred Rogers’ message of uncompromising love and kindness between all living things. Mari Heller is the perfect visionary filmmaker to bring Noah and Micah’s script to life and because of her vision and this remarkable script, we have the quintessential actor to play Fred Rogers,” said Turtletaub and Saraf.

Minghella and Shary Shirazi will oversee the project for TriStar Pictures. Production is set to begin in September. CAA and UTA brokered the deal.

Hanks is hardly a stranger to playing real-life personalities. In last year’s “The Post,” which was recently nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, he played Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee. It’s currently unknown when this film would start production, as Hanks has a handful of films expected to shoot this year, including Sony’s World War II movie “Greyhound,” which Hanks wrote as well as stars in.

Hanks is also attached to star in the Amblin film “Bios,” which is produced by Robert Zemeckis with Miguel Sapochnik directing. Hanks is repped by CAA.

Heller is represented by UTA and Ziffren Law Firm. Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster are represented by UTA and managed by Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment and James Feldman at Lichter, Grossman Law Firm. Junod is represented by Lucy Stille of APA and David Black of the David Black Agency.

Bruno Mars Grammys

TV Ratings: Grammy Awards Hit All-Time Low in Key Demo

Bruno Mars Grammys

UPDATED: Viewership of Sunday’s 60th annual Grammy Awards is down significantly from the 2017 telecast, nabbing the smallest audience in the show’s history in the key demo.

In addition, the three and a half hour awards show is averaged a 5.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 19.8 million viewers, according to time zone adjusted numbers. Last year’s show drew a 7.8 and 26.1 million, meaning the 2018 Grammys are down approximately 24 percent in both measures.

The show in Nielsen’s overnight metered markets averaged 12.7 household rating and 21 share in the 56 overnight metered markets, which cover about 70% of U.S. TV households. That’s down from a 16 household rating for the 2017 telecast.

Despite the drop, the Grammy telecast that handed big wins to hitmaker Bruno Mars still gathered a big crowd that will rank among TV’s most-watched events of the year.

Only ABC aired any originals against the Grammys. A new episode of “Shark Tank” at 9 p.m. (1.1, 4.5 million) was up slightly in both measures compared to the same timeslot last week. A second episode at 10 (1.0, 3.9 million) was even.

CBS handily won the night with a 5.0 and 16.7 million viewers. ABC was second with a 1.0 and 4.8 million. NBC was third with a 0.5 and 2.5 million. Fox was fourth with a 0.4 and 1.2 million.

Nikki Haley

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley Blasts Grammys for ‘Fire and Fury’ Skit

Nikki Haley

WASHINGTON — Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had a quick response to the Grammy skit in which Hillary Clinton and others read excerpts from “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

“Don’t ruin great music with trash,” she wrote on Twitter.

The standout political moment of the show was when Clinton, in a taped segment, was among the celebrity figures “auditioning” to perform the spoken word version of Michael Wolff’s book.

The White House and President Donald Trump have bashed the book. Haley in the past week addressed one of the rumors that isn’t explicit in the book, but that Wolff has said is apparent for those who “read between the lines” — that Trump has been having an affair during his White House tenure.

Haley told Politico last week that the rumor — that she and Trump were the ones having the affair — was “absolutely not true” and that it was reflective of the kind of “arrows” that women face as they gain success in leadership positions.

“Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it,” Haley said.

Donald Trump Jr. criticized not the Grammys, but Clinton. “Getting to read a #fakenews book excerpt at the Grammys seems like a great consolation prize for losing the presidency.”

The Grammys are typically marked by political messages in speeches and music performances. U2 on Sunday performed “Get Out of Your Own Way” with the Statue of Liberty in the background, in a statement about immigration. The show opened with Kendrick Lamar, Bono, and the Edge in a medley with messages about racism, and Dave Chappelle spoke during the segment.

Clinton actually won a Grammy for spoken word in 1997 for the audio book version of “It Takes a Village.”

Michael MooreCelebreties attend 'The People's State

GOP Lawmakers, Groups Begin Returning Steve Wynn’s Contributions

UPDATED WASHINGTON — The Republican Governors Association is returning $100,000 in contributions from Steve Wynn’s Wynn Resorts, as the GOP faces calls to sever ties with the casino mogul in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations made against Wynn.

The RGA also is canceling its contract with Wynn Resorts to hold its 2020 conference there, according to a spokesman for the organization. The organization, in an outline of steps it has taken that was provided to Variety, also will not accept future contributions from Wynn or Wynn Resorts unless the allegations prove to be false. The RGA called the claims against Wynn “serious allegations.”

Democrats in particular have hammered the Republican National Committee over Wynn, sort of a political payback after the GOP targeted the contributions that Harvey Weinstein made to the DNC when stories of his sexual misconduct and assault broke in October. Many Democratic lawmakers did donate money to nonprofits.

Wynn resigned as the national finance chair of the Republican National Committee on Saturday, one day after the Wall Street Journal reported that dozens of former and current employees claim a pattern of sexual misconduct. Wynn has called the sexual assault claims “preposterous.”

Michael MooreCelebreties attend 'The People's State

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Some Republican lawmakers have been urging party committees and candidates to return Wynn’s money or to give it to charity. Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) urged the RGA to return three years  worth of Wynn’s donations.

The RGA said that it cannot return $2.5 million it received from Wynn Resorts in previous election cycles over a span of 18 years because they money has been spent. The contributions were from Wynn Resorts, not Wynn himself, as part of a corporate membership program, according to the RGA. The company no longer will hold that membership.

The most recent IRS records show that Wynn donated $250,000 contribution to the RGA on Dec. 8, 2016. The organization has not yet filed a report for the second half of 2017.

Wynn has given to both parties, candidates, and committees, but he has been far more prolific in recent cycles in his contributions to Republicans.

He gave $5,400 to Sen. Rob Portman’s campaign in the most recent cycle. His spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the money would go to human trafficking organizations.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he would donate money he received from a Wynn Resorts public policy initiative to charity, according to The Hill.

Donald Trump

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to Step Down

Andrew McCabe

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the FBI deputy director who has been a target for President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans as the agency continues its Russia investigation, has resigned.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House played no role in his resignation. “The president wasn’t part of this decision-making process,” she told reporters on Monday. The New York Times reported that McCabe told friends that he felt pressure from the director of the bureau, Christopher Wray, to step down.

But Trump had publicly attacked him, and wrote on Twitter in December, “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?”

There had been speculation that McCabe would step down in March, once he was eligible to receive full retirement benefits. But he has been the target of right-wing media that he is part of the so-called “deep state” undermining the Trump presidency.

McCabe served as interim FBI director after Trump fired James Comey. McCabe returned to his post after Wray was confirmed as the new director.

Donald Trump

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Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., blasted the media’s reporting on McCabe’s departure. He connected it to the effort by some congressional Republicans to release a classified memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that they say outlines misuse of power by the FBI and the intelligence community when it comes to surveillance of the Trump campaign.

The Washington Post reported last week that shortly after McCabe was appointed deputy FBI director, Trump asked him who he voted for in the 2016 election. McCabe’s wife, Jill, was the recipient of $500,000 from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in her bid for a state senate seat. Trump was reportedly upset by McCabe’s wife’s political involvement. McAuliffe is a longtime ally of Trump’s 2016 foe, Hillary Clinton.

NBC News reported that after he fired Comey, Trump complained to McCabe that Comey was allowed to fly back to Washington on a government place. Comey had been in Los Angeles, visiting the FBI field office, at the time he was fired.

The network also said that Trump suggested that McCabe ask his wife how she felt being a loser. She failed to win her campaign for office. McCabe replied, “OK, sir.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for a “full explanation” of the circumstances of McCabe’s departure.

He said that McCabe “was subject to baseless political attacks levied by President Trump’s sycophantic supporters in an effort to discredit the work of the FBI and the integrity of the Russia investigation.”

Update: Comey praised McCabe in a tweet.

“Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on,” Comey wrote. “He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you.”

 

Burger King net neutrality

AT&T CEO Calls for Congress to Pass ‘Internet Bill of Rights’

Randall Stephenson

UPDATED WASHINGTON — AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is calling for Congress to pass an “Internet Bill of Rights” as a solution to the long debate over net neutrality, including provisions that would require that internet providers not discriminate in the way they treat online traffic.

“Congressional action is needed to establish an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination, and privacy protection for all internet users,” Stephenson wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. It also ran in an ad in major newspapers.

The company pushed for the FCC’s repeal last month of the regulatory foundation for its net neutrality rules, in which internet service was classified as a common carrier, also referred to in its wonkish term as “Title II.” The FCC, in a 3-2 party line vote, also rolled back rules that prohibit ISPs like AT&T from blocking or throttling content, or from selling fast-lanes of traffic so sites will have an advantage in reaching consumers.

In his blog post, Stephenson said AT&T, as a policy, already doesn’t block websites, censor online content, or “discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content. Period.”

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But he said congressional action was needed.

“Legislation would not only ensure consumers’ rights are protected, but it would provide consistent rules of the road for all internet companies across all websites, content, devices, and applications,” he wrote.

The FCC’s majority, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, argued that the repeal was needed because the existing regulation was choking investment and created more uncertainty for ISPs.

Critics were quick to point out that AT&T fought the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

“We had an Internet Bill of Rights. It was called Title II and AT&T’s army of lobbyists did everything in their power to burn it down,” said Evan Greer, campaign director for advocacy group Fight for the Future.

Greer said “internet activists have been warning for months that the big ISPs’ plan has always been to gut the rules at the FCC and then use the ‘crisis’ they created to ram through bad legislation in the name of ‘saving’ net neutrality.

“That’s the tale they’re attempting to spin with this latest announcement, but it comes off as a bit pathetic at this moment, to be honest.”

Stephenson said congressional action is needed to resolve the issue because the FCC has gone through multiple iterations of net neutrality rules. “Regulators under four different presidents have taken four different approaches. Courts have overturned regulatory decisions. Regulators have reversed their predecessors,” he wrote.

But congressional action has stalled for years. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) recently introduced a bill to ban blocking or throttling of traffic, but it does not address an issue that has been a flashpoint: paid prioritization. Internet activists say rules are needed to restrict ISPs from selling “fast lanes” of traffic, or the internet would become a system of tiers like cable TV. Stephenson did not explicitly address that issue in his blog post.

Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, the largest broadband provider, said that the company also supports congressional action.

“We’ve said that we support a free and open internet and we have been committed to enforceable open internet protections,” he said on the company’s earnings call on Wednesday. “We just thought Title II was unneccesary to guarantee consumers that open internet. We believe Congress will hopefully now act to put some enduring set of enforceable internet protections that can no longer get revisited and reversed with different administrations.”

Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy who was counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, said that AT&T’s statement is “the ultimate in hypocrisy.”

She said that the company” has led the charge to repeal the Wheeler FCC’s strong broadband privacy rules and rules protecting Americans with landline phones, promoted state laws that ban communities from building their own broadband networks, and of course, has been a central player in the FCC’s recent repeal of its network neutrality rules and the agency’s abdication of its role protecting consumers and competition.”

She said that Stephenson’s proposal would “leave the FCC powerless, net neutrality and privacy protections weak and consumers and competition left out in the cold.”

In the wake of the FCC’s repeal of most of the net neutrality rules, Democrats have pushed back and vow to make net neutrality a 2018 midterm campaign issue.

All members of the Democratic Senate caucus and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said they support a procedural effort to reverse the FCC’s recent repeal of the rules. The effort, made possible by the Congressional Review Act, is just one vote shy of passage. Still, the legislative effort must pass the House and be signed by President Donald Trump. The White House has indicated that Trump sides with the FCC’s Republican majority.

Some states are also considering their own rules. The FCC’s latest order prohibits states from creating their own net neutrality regulations, but Montana’s governor Democrat Steve Bullock, signed an executive order this week requiring that recipients of state contracts abide by net neutrality principles.

“This is a simple step states can take to preserve and protect net neutrality. We can’t wait for folks in Washington D.C. to come to their senses and reinstate these rules,” he said. He invited other state governments to follow suit.

Update: An AT&T spokesman added this comment on paid prioritization.

“The purpose of today’s open letter calling for an Internet Bill of Rights was to begin a dialog on a comprehensive framework for basic consumer protections on the internet that applies to all internet companies. 

“For new technologies, such as self-driving cars, remote surgery and augmented reality, to work, a higher level of internet performance is required. If you’re in a self-driving car, buffering or data delays are not an option. As it relates to prioritization specifically, we don’t know what the ultimate answer is. We want to have a dialog about it with other internet companies and consumer groups, so that Congress is considering all angles as they begin to write the rules of the road on how the internet works, particularly for new innovation and invention, like self-driving cars or augmented reality.”

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.