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News Briefs II

Federal Trade Commission OKs Time Warner Mega-Merger

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Federal Trade Commission announced Thursday that Time Warner Inc. could proceed with its $6.5 billion acquisition of Turner Broadcasting System, though the agency imposed restrictions it said would prevent the entertainment giants from unilaterally raising cable TV prices and limiting program choices.

The FTC announced that its five commissioners voted 3-2 on Wednesday to approve the deal. The vote came after Time Warner agreed to a half-dozen restrictions aimed mainly at limiting the influence of cable giant Tele-Communications Inc., a major Turner shareholder, on the new company.

The decision did not appease representatives of some consumers groups, who complained that consumers would face higher prices for cable TV and less program choice.

The deal awaits approval by the Federal Communications Commission, which must review the transfer of Turner's Atlanta television station license to Time Warner. But the FTC review was regarded as the most serious threat to the merger and company officials have scheduled separate meetings with Time Warner and Turner shareholders on Oct. 10 to approve the transaction.

The combination of Time Warner and Turner would create the world's biggest media conglomerate, with about $20 billion in annual revenue coming not only from cable TV operations but books, magazines, movies, music and telephone service. Yet it had been the deal's potential impact on the nation's cable industry that worried regulators.

FCC Eases Way for Utilities To Enter Telecommunications

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Federal regulators moved Thursday to make it easier for gas and electric companies to get into such telecommunications fields as cable TV and the telephone business.

The new rules approved unanimously by the Federal Communications Commission will ease the way for public power utilities to use their vast in-house communications networks - which often run alongside existing phone and cable TV lines - to transmit phone and TV signals and offer other telecommunications services.

Several utilities have already taken steps to enter the telecommunications business. The FCC's action gives the same right to utilities whose service areas cross state lines.

The FCC rule change is the final step needed to implement the wishes of Congress, which earlier this year passed a sweeping telecommunications reform law that lifted the telecommunications restrictions that had been imposed on utility companies by the 61-year-old Public Utility Holding Company Act.

The rule change is expected to ignite a wave of new investment in telecommunications by the $200 billion power industry, which itself is in the midst of radical change as it loses monopoly status and faces new competition in providing electric power.

Federal Reserve Sees Stable Prices In Nationwide Survey Results

The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Despite rising wages across the United States, prices generally remain steady, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

The Fed's latest nationwide survey of economic conditions did little to clarify the outlook for inflation or the economy for the central bank policy-makers - who will meet Sept. 24 to consider whether to raise short-term interest rates. Fed officials are concerned that labor markets have become so tight that a faster rise in wages could cause inflation to worsen.

The survey, conducted eight times a year by the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks, found plenty of evidence of tight labor markets. That was particularly true in the Richmond, Va., district, which includes the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas, where the Fed said such tightness was "widespread." Similar conditions were reported for most of the center of the country included in the Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City districts.

In the Cleveland area, the difficulty in finding workers has meant that "the cost of new hires is accelerating," the Cleveland Fed reported. And the Minneapolis Fed said there is "upward pressure on entry-level wages."

EPA to Develop Stricter, Child-Based Standards for Toxins

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Clinton administration announced plans Wednesday to develop stricter standards for toxic substances based on their effects on children.

In the past, acceptable pollution levels often were determined by studies of the general population. Environmental groups have lobbied to adopt child-based standards instead, arguing that children often are more susceptible to environmental toxins than adults and are not adequately protected by existing regulations.

"We must meet the challenge of protecting our children from toxins in the environment," said Administrator Carol M. Browner of the Environmental Protection Agency. "An awareness of children's unique susceptibility and exposure to toxic threats must guide every action we take to protect public health and the environment."

The timing of the announcement, coming eight weeks before the presidential election, did not escape the notice of environmental groups and others.

"The report is long overdue," said Gina Solomon, a Natural Resources Defense Council specialist on the environmental effects of pollution on children. "But if the EPA really carries this out, it will mean a whole new way of looking at how chemicals affect children."