Ma Bell reincarnated?

If anyone knows about the scrutiny of mega-corporations gobbling up competition, it should be AT&T, which will be under the microscope with its announced plan to merge with Time Warner in a blockbuster $85 billion deal.

AT&T rose from the dust of the Ma Bell break-up nearly 35 years ago as Southwestern Bell and has been gradually rebuilding its muscular form with acquisitions, first by buying up 10 of the so-called Baby Bells, including the original AT&T and rebranding itself with the iconic name. AT&T has since expanded to the second-largest wireless company and the largest provider of landline service. The company has broadened its footprint into cable and satellite.

So now that it has solidified its standing as a delivery service behemoth, the company is looking to corral the content and that has watchdogs very, very nervous. With the acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T would own CNN, HBO, TNT, and Warner Bros. pictures, which owns such blockbuster properties as Harry Potter movies and the Superman and Batman franchises. Critics worry that, despite assurances from both companies, the new structure will limit distribution of that content to its customers, icing out those who get their service elsewhere. It’s similar to the questions raised when Comcast acquired NBC and Disney took over ESPN, Pixar, and Lucasfilms.

“Less competition has historically resulted in fewer choices and higher prices for consumers and this deal should be assessed with consumers, competition, and choice in mind,” Sen. Edward Markey, a longtime critic and canary in the coal mine on consolidated telecommunications issues, said in a statement when the planned merger was announced over the weekend.

The concern that AT&T could affect how content is viewed is based on the continuing wave of younger people “cutting the cord” on cable and relying on devices to stream shows, movies, and news to wherever they are. The argument is AT&T, with its mammoth wireless network, could, for instance, allow its customers to stream certain content such as NFL football without eating up data while non-subscribers would deplete their data, in effect forcing them to pay for higher volume plans or switching to AT&T.

The watchdogs are also wary of the increased advertising access the merger could create, allowing AT&T to mine its subscriber base for interests and habits based on viewing and turn that into focused advertising and broaden its revenue stream because advertisers will pay for that kind of directed access.

You can be assured that the coming months will be closely watched not only by competitors such as Verizon and Comcast but also by giant tech companies such as Apple, which had been in talks to acquire Time Warner, and Google, which has been trolling about to get into the content-distribution game at some level.

Already, bipartisan opposition is lining up against the deal, with Donald Trump declaring flatly he’ll undo the merger if elected and Sen. Bernie Sanders calling on the Justice Department to “kill the deal.” Hillary Clinton said regulators should certainly go over it with a fine-tooth comb and you can bet whichever party rules the Senate, there will be hearings upon hearings on the deal. And you’ll be able to watch them live on TV or stream them to your smartphone.



The Gun Owners’ Action League plans to protest at the Governor’s Council hearing this week on the nomination of Christopher Barry-Smith, saying Gov. Charlie Baker’s pick for a Superior Court judgeship has worked to restrict gun rights while an assistant attorney general. (Boston Herald)


The more things change… Joe Rull, a former City Hall aide to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, has emerged as a private sector fixer for developers looking for city approval of projects. (Boston Herald)

Worcester’s political leaders praise city workers and residents for their response to the rain that drenched the city Friday and into early Saturday. More than 4 inches fell, causing flooding that stranded many people in cars. (Telegram & Gazette)


The two Minneapolis police officers involved in the November 2015 fatal shooting of Jamal Clark will face no disciplinary action. (Governing)


It’s not anti-charter to oppose lifting the cap on charter schools, says Boston School Committee member Michael Loconto. (CommonWealth) Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll is resisting the polarizing pull of the charter school ballot question, insisting charters can play a valuable role, while also advocating for some reforms to the charter system. (Boston Globe) The Herald endorses a “yes” vote on the charter-expanding ballot question.

Even if voters legalize marijuana next month, pot will remain illegal on Massachusetts college campuses because nearly all of them receive federal funding and therefore must follow federal law under which it remains verboten. (Boston Globe) James Gessner, the president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, says marijuana legalization would be harmful to public health. (Boston Herald)

The Globe endorses Democrat Maggie Hassan for US Senate in New Hampshire.

Pundits say Hillary Clinton should not get complacent and overconfident in the last two weeks of the presidential race. (Boston Herald)

The Herald endorses a “no” vote on Question 1, which would authorize an additional slot machine facility in the state.

Republicans are worried that Donald Trump’s unpopularity will depress Republican turnout and hurt down-ballot GOP candidates in close elections. (Boston Globe) Hillary Chabot suggests that Gov. Charlie Baker’s disavowals of Donald Trump could prove costly with the Republican conservative base in 2018. (Boston Herald)

Two start-up entrepreneurs offer views on the presidential candidates. (Boston Globe)

The Justice Department is sending observers to polling locations in only four states, a dramatic reduction from four years ago because of a Supreme Court ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act. (New York Times)


Boston officials say they will get back over the next 20 years double the $25 million in tax breaks given to General Electric as part of the deal for the company to move its headquarters to Boston. (Boston Globe)

Needham is the new Brooklyn: We know real estate agents are in the business of creative embellishment, but this description in a Saturday Boston Herald real estate story of a $1 million five-bedroom ultra-suburban house for sale caused us to choke on our fair trade coffee: “I feel like it really appeals to hipsters looking to move to Needham,” said Lynda Hughes, the real estate agent selling the home.”


Students at Boston Latin School are not happy about an announcement that dress code rules will be strictly enforced beginning on November 1. (Boston Herald)


Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs, in the latest of his ongoing series of op-eds, takes stock of the country’s broken health care system. (Boston Globe)

Western Massachusetts communities turned in 1,926 pounds of unused drugs during Drug Take Back Day. (MassLive)


The US needs a mobility moonshot, says former transportation secretary James Aloisi. (CommonWealth)

One way or another, transportation investments are needed in Massachusetts, say Dan Hodge of Hodge Economic Consultant and Tim Brennan, the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. (CommonWealth)

It’s not only its trains that suffer from interminable delays: The MBTA continues to drag its feet in responding to a Boston Herald public records request for a consultant’s report on its leave of absence policy.

Five people were killed in an early morning crash Monday when a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 495 northbound struck a car carrying four people in Middleboro. (Herald News)


Question: What’s the expected cost and impact of the state’s new energy law authorizing large purchases of hydroelectricity and offshore wind? Answer: A 9 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an electric bill impact of $5.70 to $8.50 a month. (CommonWealth)

Berkshire Gas is proposing the expansion of a major gas main that would allow the company to start hooking up more customers in the upper Pioneer Valley. (Masslive)

Sandwich officials have reached an agreement with NRG Energy for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes that will net the town $57 million over the next 20 years in exchange for a new gas-fired plant at the company’s generating facility on the Cape Cod Canal. (Cape Cod Times)

State park rangers and Environmental Police are following up on a potential sighting of a black bear cub at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, the first reported sighting of a bear in the area in more than five years. (Patriot Ledger)


Recreational marijuana seems on the verge of being legalized, so why are state and federal law enforcement officials using helicopters to spot marijuana plants and then sending in State Police to cut them down and destroy them? (CommonWealth)

Private businesses in the South Coast area are registering their security cameras with local police and the Bristol District Attorney’s office so that investigators can access them when probing crimes without having to get a warrant. (Standard-Times) In the Winter 2015 issue, CommonWealth examined the expanding use of private security cameras in the fight against crime.

A quarter century after Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a justice to the Supreme Court, a different side of the notoriously private conservative jurist is emerging. (U.S. News & World Report)


Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is set to announce a new gig as a daily talk show host for the alt-right media group Breitbart. (New York) Last week’s Back Story wondered if a radio gig as a conservative yakker was Schilling’s goal in publicly toying with the idea of challenging liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (CommonWealth) Schilling’s would-be candidacy is not being taken too seriously. (Politico)

The state’s Supervisor of Public Records ruled in favor of an appeal by The Enterprise that Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter must turn over the names of the four semi-finalists for a controversial position as police spokesman, a post that has since been defunded by the City Council.

The Wall Street Journal is seeking a “substantial number” of buyouts to reduce its employee count. (CNN)


Tom Hayden, the protester turned politician, dies at age 76. (Los Angeles Times)