Inter Net Neutrality

What an interesting play on words.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “inter” is a verb that means “to deposit (a dead body) in the earth or in a tomb.”

Earlier this week, the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outlined plans to bury the Internet rules promulgated under the Obama administration that required providers of Internet services to treat all web traffic equally.  Those rules, among other things, limit the ability of ISPs to favor content or customers, to block or slow down the online services they provide.  Under the proposed changes, ISPs (wired and wireless) would be allowed to offer web-based services at different speeds and differing quality of service.  In addition, they could enable more favorable speed or quality, or both, for websites that paid a fee – as long as that relationship was disclosed.

Over the years, a lively and heated debate over the nature and extent of regulation needed to protect consumers without stifling innovation has continued.  Proponents of eliminating the rules claim that allowing the market to create different financial and performance models will spur investment and the development of technology, while critics argue that consumer prices would increase and so would barriers to entry and start-up costs for new companies.  Critics point to the airline industry (where the FCC net neutrality rules have never been applicable) as an example of the potential for harm – one U.S. air carrier provides easy access to one online video service which has paid the airline for such priority status, while others are not enabled with the same speed or quality.

Under the previous administration, the Internet and ISPs (both wired and wireless) were treated as utilities, virtually excluding them from regulatory oversight by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose fact-based, case-by-case, analytical approach to regulation is generally perceived as more suitable (and friendly) for emerging technology and evolving markets.  Based on Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks, in another reversal of the prior administration’s approach, it appears the FCC is now willing to share oversight with the FTC and have the FTC be responsible for monitoring ISP disclosures, determining if consumers are being harmed and determining whether these firms are engaging in anti-competitive or unfair trade practices.  The FCC indicated it plans to enact the new rules early in the new year.  Stay tuned.

If you have any questions or want more information about this or any Legal Bytes’ post, don’t hesitate to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a New York based partner at Rimon, P.C., or any of the other lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

 

The Antitrust Division Finds the Nails

– By Stephen Díaz Gavin

Just yesterday (Monday, November 20th), as Stephen Diaz-Gavin’s article “For Want of a Nail: The AT&T – Time Warner Merger” was posted on Legal Bytes, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a lawsuit opposing the merger in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking that the proposed merger and related transactions be permanently enjoined.  The lawsuit is a significant departure from U.S. antitrust policy in recent years, which has generally permitted vertical mergers and, as we pointed out in our original post, highlights the problems in not having availed themselves of the FCC’s  public interest review to address the concerns about the merger, publicly.  AT&T  immediately responded that it will defend the merger, but win or lose, one thing is a sure thing – approval of AT&T’s $85.4 billion entry into the content production business — is no longer a sure thing. You can read the full text of the DOJ Complaint and again, if you have any questions feel free to contact Stephen Díaz Gavin directly. Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a Partner at Rimon in New York or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

All Good Things Must . . . .

–          Dror Futter

So far this year, offerings of blockchain based tokens have raised over $3 billion and for a long time regulators seemed to be ignoring these Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).  Indeed, some commentators asserted they were outside the scope of government regulation.

This past summer, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began to take aim.  While the SEC has not yet provided detailed guidance as to which tokens would be categorized as securities and which considered “utility tokens” (outside the SEC’s jurisdiction), the SEC has indicated such tokens can be securities, basing its determinations on a ‘facts and circumstances’ analysis.  Having said that, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton reportedly deviated from prepared remarks earlier this month and said: “I have yet to see an ICO that doesn’t have a sufficient number of hallmarks of a security.

Since the summer, China and South Korea have banned ICOs, while  Canada, the UK, Switzerland, Australia and most recently the EU, issued SEC-like guidance stressing that tokens may be securities and as a result, subject to the oversight of securities regulators.

In addition, the first lawsuits related to ICOs have now been filed, reminding us that regulatory action is far from the only legal risk faced by ICO sponsors of ICOs.   In one of the current lawsuits,  only one of the claims is for the sale of unregistered securities, while other claims include allegations of fraud, false advertising and unfair competition under State law. Civil suits by disappointed investors and class action lawsuits relating to large scale offerings are likely to increase in the months and years ahead.

While recent developments don’t foretell the end of ICOs, they highlight more than the typical significant legal and regulatory risks associated with early stage venture investing.  Indeed, investors may not be able to rely on the same types of legal protections they might obtain when acquiring conventional securities.  Even after the initial issuance of these ‘tokens,’ their resale could raise even more issues and compliance may affect liquidity and valuation.  In an uncertain regulatory environment, risk mitigation is an important element of counseling clients, but hardly a basis for avoiding risk altogether and clients and their lawyers have good reason to be cautious. In fact, even creating an impression that an ICO has been ‘blessed’ by lawyers may not make it clear that opinions have a significant level of assumptions, qualifications and caveats well beyond routine legal opinions.

This posting was adapted and extracted from a more detailed Client Alert written by Dror Futter, a New York-New Jersey based Partner at Rimon, P.C.  You can read the entire alert, entitled “Spoiler Alert: ICOs – The “Good Times” May Be Ending,” and if you need more information, feel free to contact Dror Futter  directly. As always, if you need any assistance you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a New York based Partner at Rimon,  or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

For Want of a Nail: The AT&T – Time Warner Merger

– By Stephen Díaz Gavin

In Poor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin included his own version of an old proverb : “For the want of a nail the shoe was lost, For the want of a shoe the horse was lost, For the want of a horse the rider was lost, For the want of a rider the battle was lost, For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.” In the case of AT&T’s proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner Communications, for want of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the battle might now be lost.

When the merger was announced, AT&T confidently predicted that the deal would get the regulatory “green light”, from the FCC and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) portraying the deal as a classic “vertical” merger that removed no competitors from any market. Mindful that AT&T was still smarting from its 2011 failure to convince the FCC to permit its acquisition of T-Mobile in a horizontal merger, AT&T wanted to avoid FCC review, if at all possible.  AT&T and Time Warner maintained this situation was different.  They pointed to the fact that both DOJ and FCC had allowed a large vertical merger to proceed in 2011 when Comcast was permitted to acquire NBC Universal from General Electric.  Just this past February, Time Warner reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that it did not plan to transfer any of its licenses to AT&T, so FCC approval would not be necessary. Curiously, few questioned AT&T’s suggestion that there was no role for the FCC because the licenses did not themselves provide service to the public, even though the Communications Act applies to all radio licenses, not just those intended to provide direct service to the public. Apparently a sure thing only weeks ago, the acquisition has  run into significant regulatory difficulties and the DOJ has now raised the prospect that AT&T will have to divest either the Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes CNN and other popular channels, or its DirecTV business.

So what is happening now and why? Consider the political landscape for one. There has been considerable bipartisan political opposition to AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. Both leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress have spoken skeptically of the merger. Indeed, despite some relatively benign requirements (not including any divestitures), the DOJ approved the Comcast/NBC Universal merger with no divestiture obligations on Comcast. It is no coincidence that opposition to the Comcast acquisition was largely from programmers and public interest groups, but not, as is the case here, politicians as well.

Comcast and AT&T already control 62.3% of U.S. high-speed internet broadband capacity – significant market power and the capability, as internet service providers, to engage in strategies intended to block competitors. Public interest groups and content providers have again raised the concern that like Comcast before it, AT&T will now itself be a programmer with an incentive for anti-competitive behavior. On the programming side, “competitors” like Google, Amazon.com Video, Facebook and others are dependent on ISPs like Comcast and AT&T to reach users. Some officials at DOJ are also apparently frustrated with AT&T trying to circumvent the regulatory process by creating a sense of “inevitability” around approvals and although behavioral safeguards were imposed in the Comcast/NBC approval, there has been growing concern these have not been successful in preventing abuses.

If the AT&T/Time Warner merger fails, it may well be for want of the FCC’s involvement at the very outset. For many reasons, this entire situation might well have been avoided if AT&T had bit the bullet and sought review by the FCC, along with DOJ. Not doing so, bypasses the public notice and comment procedures and disregards the “safety valve” provided by same public airing of the issues. Although impossible to know at this point, perhaps the public interest emphasis of the FCC might even had taken some pressure off the DOJ to look at more drastic alternatives, such as divestitures of key assets. Instead of the FCC that would have considered imposing “public interest” conditions on the merger, AT&T must now deal with a DOJ Antitrust Division head who believes only in structural remedies, such as divestitures.  We may never know if want of the FCC, like the want of a nail, will cause the battle to be lost, but it increasingly looks that way.

This posting was adapted and extracted from a more detailed Client Alert written by Stephen Díaz Gavin, a Partner in Rimon’s Washington, D.C. office and coordinator of Rimon’s Affiliation with Studio Legale Palmieri in Rome, Italy. You can read the entire alert, entitled “AT&T’s Multibillion Dollar Purchase of Time Warner Might Fail for Not Involving FCC,” and if you need more information, feel free to contact Stephen Díaz Gavin directly. As always, if you need any assistance you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a Partner at Rimon in New York or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

First Joint Consultations May Foreshadow Effectiveness of Privacy Shield

–  Stephen Díaz, Partner, Rimon, P.C. &  Claudio Palmieri, Of  Counsel Rimon, P.C. (Principal, Studio Legale Palmieri –Rimôn Italia)

On October 6, 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the so-called “Safe Harbor” that previously governed data transfers between the U.S. and the EU (Case C-362/14 – Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, 6 October 2015).

As you already know if you read our Legal Bytes’ posting in May concerning the US-EU Data Transfer Privacy Shield, personal data cannot be transferred to from the EU to a non-European Union/European Economic Area country, unless that country can ensure “adequate levels of protection” for such personal data. While the European Commission had identified a number of countries that met the ‘adequate protection’ test, the United States was not one of them and without the Safe Harbor understandings, transatlantic exchanges of data – both for commercial and national security reasons – were at risk of being non-compliant with EU regulations!  In an attempt to temporarily address the data transfer issues, the EU and the U.S. proposed a new framework for exchanges of personal data for commercial purposes, known as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield (“Privacy Shield”) which was formally launched on July 12, 2016.

Further complicating matters, a new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on May 25, 2018.    In furtherance of a formal and more permanent agreement under the Privacy Shield and in contemplation of the new regulations, representatives of the U.S. and the EU have announced they will meet in Washington, DC during the week of September 18, 2017, for the first Annual Review of the Privacy Shield.  In advance of the meeting, the EU’s official Working Group (WP 29) sent the European Commission their recommendations and consistent with previous pronouncements, they believe the meeting should focus on enforcement of rights and obligations, as well as changes in U.S. law since the adoption of the Privacy Shield.  WP29 recommended discussions focus on these issue and that any formal agreement must deal with both commercial, as well as law enforcement and national security access.

These concerns and considerations are explored in more detail in our full Client Alert: No Certainty in Future of Privacy Shield as Transatlantic Consultations Set to Begin and it is clear that the September consultations may well be an indication of whether the Privacy Shield will prove an adequate regulatory regime for the transatlantic transfer of personal data and whether meaningful progress is likely in the current environment.

If you would like more information, a better understanding or need guidance regarding compliance with these regulations, contact Stephen Díaz Gavin, a Rimon Law Partner based in Washington, DC or Claudio Palmieri is of counsel to Rimon, P.C. and the principal of Studio Legale Palmieri –Rimôn Italia in Rome, Italy. Of course you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

Legal Entity Identifiers Require More Invasive Information

Robin Powers, Partner &  James Ballard, Paralegal

The Global Market Entity Identifier Utility issues Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI) which are unique 20-digit alpha-numeric identification codes, based on standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization.  Many regulatory authorities require financial market participants that engage in certain transactions to obtain an LEI. Read more about the LEI.

In the past, an entity could simply provide self-identifying information (i.e., “Level 1 Data”), but now GMEI Utility is requiring Level 2 Data – information relating to the parent companies of its registered entities, based on the accounting relationship of the entities.

This reporting requirement will permanently link data collected in relation to an entity’s LEI to all of its daughter entities. If the parent does not have its own LEI, other identifying information (parent’s legal name, address and registration authority information) is now being required. There are some exceptions or allowable reasons for opting out of providing certain information, but it is clear that LEI issuers are seeking additional scrutiny of parent companies.

Could an enterprise reorganize in order to avoid reporting by qualifying for an exclusion? Perhaps. Could contractual restrictions on disclosure allow for an opt-out?  It’s possible. Could accounting and financial restructuring dis aggregate the basis for the connection? Maybe. Whatever the consequences and reactions, legal counsel should be consulted to assess the risks of providing such additional information in this context.

You should contact Robin Powers and James Ballard directly if you have questions and they have prepared a more detailed client alert you can read:  Maintaining Your Legal Entity Identifier Just Got More Invasive.

Of course, if you need assistance or more information, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum or any of the attorneys are Rimon Law with whom you regularly work.

Marketing Hedge Funds – Why “Fiduciary” Matters

–  by  Thomas M. White

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently adopted a rule expanding the definition of who may be a fiduciary under ERISA.  Significant because ERISA-covered plans control enormous pools of capital and ERISA fiduciaries are prohibited from engaging in self-dealing transactions.  The new rule, which went into effect on June 9, 2017, affects how investments in hedge funds will be marketed to ERISA-covered plans and IRAs.

If a person makes a “recommendation” regarding an investment or investment management and receives a fee from a plan, a plan participant, a fiduciary, an IRA or an owner of an IRA that person will be considered a fiduciary and that definition applies even if the underlying assets are not “plan assets” within the meaning of the DOL’s Plan Asset Regulation.  If this sounds confusing, appreciate there is litigation currently pending regarding whether the DOL’s rule applies to IRAs or their owners.

Probably the most critical determination will be whether a “recommendation” has been made for purposes of this new rule.  A “recommendation” involves the purchase, holding, managing or sale of securities and is “a communication that, based on its content, context and presentation, would reasonably be viewed as a suggestion that the advice recipient engage in or refrain from taking a particular course of action.”  In fact, a series of communications may result in a “recommendation,” even if each individual communications may not rise to that level.  Although general communications are not, advice based on individual characteristics of a potential investor are likely “recommendations.”

There are a number of regulatory exemptions, such as recommendations made to a “sophisticated” adviser or investor or if an adviser offers advice to an independent plan or IRA fiduciary in an arm’s-length transaction and the adviser reasonably believes the independent fiduciary is a qualified financial institution (e.g., a bank, insurance company or a broker-dealer) or if the recipient of the information manages at least $50 million in assets regardless of whether those assets are plan assets.

Why does all this matter.  Make a presentation covering the general features of a specific hedge fund to a meeting room packed with potential investors and investment advisers.  After the formal presentation concludes, an audience member comes over to the presenter, describes himself as an IRA owner and his particular circumstances – a discussion ensues.  If the speaker isn’t careful about what is said, and a fee may be earned by the hedge fund it may be a problem.  There are other examples too numerous to describe here.

To minimize the likelihood they will be considered fiduciaries under the new rule, hedge funds should determine if they want to market to IRAs, small plans and individuals who have investment discretion over the investments in their profit sharing and 401(k) accounts.  Marketing materials should be reviewed to determine if they need to be modified to avoid a problem.  Even subscription agreements should make it clear the potential investor is not a small plan or an IRA unless it is being advised by an investment professional who fits under the exemption. Marketing professionals should be trained as to what they may and may not say and written reports describing conversations and communications with potential investors should be retained.

If you want to read more about the potential application of this new rule you can read the entire Rimon Client Alert or contact Tom White directly.  Mr. White specializes in the full scope of human resources management, such as Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation, Healthcare, and Employment Law.

Net Neutrality: Is the Cease Fire Over?

By Stephen Díaz Gavin  *

The way the U.S. Government regulates the Internet is back in play again. The outcome of the long running battle over “net neutrality” and regulation of the Internet – now more than 15 years old — is still uncertain. However, it is clear that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping back from the stronger supervision of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) adopted in March 2015 under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the insistence of former President Obama.
On May 18, 2017, the FCC voted to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to step back from the agency’s controversial March 2015 decision to treat ISPs as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act. Instead, the “proposed rule,” will revert to classifying ISPs as providers of an “information service” and return jurisdiction over ISPs privacy practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – a clear indication of the direction the FCC will take under the current administration.
Law professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality” in 2003.  As the FCC’s current Chairman Pai recently noted in an interview in the Wall Street Journal, the term “[i]s one of the more seductive marketing slogans that’s ever been attached to a public policy issue”.  Who can be against “leaving the Internet alone?” (“Why ‘Net Neutrality’ Drives the Left Crazy,” Wall Street Journal).   Apparently, many believe that it should not be left alone: the FCC received nearly 1.25 million comments submitted via the Internet in the three weeks following FCC Chairman Pai’s announcement that he intended to reconsider the Title II rules; nearly all opposing the proposal.
At the core of the dispute is the tension between the ISPs on the one hand, and streaming content providers like Netflix and Amazon, as well as Internet giants like Google and Facebook on the other.
Consumers fear a slowdown in service. The ISPs maintain the March 2015 common carrier regulation decision will stifle investments and ultimately produce what consumers fear:  a slower Internet.  Indeed, in the NPRM the FCC cited a decline in investment since the March 2015 Order in support of changing the rules.  The clash of interests highlights how outdated the old ways of government oversight of telecommunications have become. The Communications Act of 1934, was originally enacted to monitor the monopoly telephone provider at the time (ATT), based on the model of regulating railroad service and freight rates under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 – hardly a relevant basis for overseeing the backbone of 21st century technology.
The common carrier regulatory model prohibits additional charges for streaming content providers, which could be viewed as discriminatory. However, such a regulatory structure does not account for how ISPs pay for upgrades to maintain service quality as consumer demand increases for such content streaming.  Video content producers that stream large volumes of data, slow up Internet connections. Although the largest ISPs have agreed voluntarily not to charge the Netflix and Amazons of the world for doing so, where must the money come from in order to continue to upgrade capacity to maintain high speed download?  Retail consumers are concerned about higher rates, surcharges or deliberate “slowing” of service, yet these same consumers are customers of over-the-top online video gaming and streaming services that consume huge amounts of capacity.  Consumers always want more and faster service and they want it at the lowest price.
Given the current Republican majority, the FCC will likely eliminate Title II regulation of ISPs as it has proposed.  However, the decision can and will again be challenged in the courts (as has every prior rule on net neutrality).  Even if upheld by the courts, only Congress can define ‘net neutrality’ once and for all and give some degree of regulatory certainty to the regulations (which can be changed by a Democratic majority just as easily as the current Republican controlled FCC has done to the Obama era rules).
Net neutrality is now a hot political issue and despite current Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, it is uncertain whether a working majority in both exists that can adopt legislation to guide the FCC.  No matter who you are, in the debate over net neutrality, clearly nobody is neutral. Until Congress acts to give some greater definition to the term, successive FCC Chairmen will be able to reinterpret net neutrality as they see fit.

* This post was derived and adapted from a Rimon Law Client Alert “No Peace in Sight for Net Neutrality” by Stephen Díaz Gavin, who you can contact directly for more information.  

Forensic DNA and Missing Children: The Legal & Ethical Issues

Since 1983, when the day was designated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as National Missing Children’s Day in the United States and spreading internationally through the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), May 25th has been celebrated as International Missing Children’s Day.  GMAC is a jointly sponsored venture of the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC),  that focuses on educating parents on steps they can take in protecting their children, as well sharing best practices and information in investigating cases of child abduction, trafficking and illegal adoptions.

This year, I have the distinct privilege and great honor of speaking at the conference for Missing Children and Genetic Identity, organized by the Portuguese Association for Missing and Exploited Children [Associaçāo Portuguesa de Crianças Desaparecidas] and sponsored by Genomed, to be held at Lusófona University in Lisbon on the 25th of May 2017 – International Missing Children’s Day.

The conference will explore the connection between modern genetics and forensic science and on national and international efforts to aide investigations of missing and abused children.  The legal and ethical issues surrounding DNA collection and use, the pros and cons of storing DNA samples and maintaining a database of digital DNA ‘fingerprints’ as well as other bio metric information from individuals – convicted criminals, arrested individuals, victims, family members and even the general public – continues to be hotly debated on the national and international level throughout the world.  In addition to issues of privacy and security, the use and potential abuse of genetic and other bio metric evidence, whether to exonerate individuals or convict guilty individuals, is not just complicated, it is inconsistent across jurisdictional borders.  Sharing of critical information that may help identify a child or investigate a missing person, whether or not a crime may have been committed, is neither assured nor routine – despite the obvious benefits a regulated and carefully constructed information sharing system might be to family members, law enforcement and the forensic scientific community.

The conference, one of many throughout  the world on May 25th, will attract distinguished guests and provide a forum for discussion and shine a much needed spotlight on the legal and ethical challenges and opportunities at the intersection of science, law and law enforcement. I will publish a copy of my presentation and remarks after the conference concludes, but if you would like to know more about the conference, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or the organizers directly.

 

US-EU Data Transfer Privacy Shield

Being referred to by the European Union as the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on May 25, 2018.  There is even a ‘countdown’ clock on the website and under the GDPR, “Personal Data” means information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (including email addresses, telephone numbers, addresses and IP addresses).   While the European Commission has determined a number of countries already meet the ‘adequate protection’ test, the United States is not one of them!

As most readers of Legal Bytes already know, personal data cannot be transferred to from the EU to a non-European Union/European Economic Area country, unless that country can ensure “adequate levels of protection” for such personal data.

As background, in July of 2016, a new framework for the movement of personal data between the EU and the US was finalized – EU-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks – which was put into place in an effort to meet the requirements of the EU Data Directive.   However, critics noting the holes in that framework, have generated increasing concern as the 2018 effective date of the new EU GDPR approaches.   A few months ago, immediately following the inauguration ceremony, President Trump issued United States’ Executive Order 13768 (January 25, 2017) that has created even greater concern.  While it is possible a new or refined agreement and framework may be put into place in the months leading up to 2018, there is no certainty.

What do you need to know? What should you consider doing now?   My colleague Jill Williamson has written an article which has been published in Risk & Compliance Magazine, entitled “The Fragile Framework of the Privacy Shield“.   If you want to know more about the privacy and data protection implications of the new framework, its potential risks to your business and what you should be considering as you look to the future, feel free to contact Jill Williamson directly.  Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.