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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

One after another, regulators are making moves that underscore just how fast the media industry is changing, putting pressure on Washington to make sure laws keep up.

Why it matters: The internet has generally been seen as a democratizing force for the flow of information by giving diverse voices more ways to reach Americans. But new technologies, like high-speed broadband and automation, have changed the way information reaches people on the internet. And while media businesses scramble to respond, Washington is split on what to do.

Where it stands: Regulatory decisions over the past week have significant ramifications for the digital industry.

  • The Justice Department sued to block AT&T's takeover of Time Warner, an $85 billion deal that would have combined one of the country's largest internet service providers with a TV and movie programming powerhouse. Blocking it sets a precedent of future media and telecom deals.
  • The FCC released its plan to repeal existing net neutrality rules. Under the new plan, which is expected to be adopted next month, internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast would be able to block or slow down consumers' access to certain content and strike deals to give preferential treatment to some content companies.
  • Both rulings come on the heels of a media deregulation blitz at the FCC that is seen as a win for broadcasters — including Sinclair Broadcasting Group's $3.9 billion bid for Tribune Media — and newspapers.

A few major shifts are driving the policy turnabouts:

  • Legacy media is collapsing to tech. Traditional TV networks are suddenly competing for viewership with tech companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook, that people only need an internet connection to access for a fraction of the cost. This makes must-have content that will attract audiences even more valuable.
  • The pipes are merging with content. Internet service providers don't want to be "dumb pipes" that just deliver the bits that power the internet. They know that to survive, they need to give consumers an incentive to buy their service. So the companies that own the internet pipes are merging with the content companies to provide better experiences. This is why Comcast bought NBCUniversal, and why AT&T wants to buy Time Warner.
  • Fear of discrimination. These mergers are mostly taking place to get ahead of consumers' migration to digital TV. But some worry that mergers could give deep-pocketed media conglomerates an unfair advantage over upstarts.If large companies own the content and the pipes to distribute it, they'll have an incentive to speed up the delivery of their own digital streaming content at the expense of their rivals'.Net neutrality rules aimed to prevent that kind of favoritism, but the current FCC argues those rules impede innovation.

The split: At the heart of uncertainty right now is that two divergent views are emerging from this administration of how to handle increasing consolidation on all fronts.

  • While the FCC is giving industry players — specifically broadcasters and internet service providers — room to grow bigger in a changing media landscape, the Justice Department is taking the opposite approach by trying to prevent a mega-media merger from happening.
  • Democrats have long been concerned about too much power in the hands of a few, while Republicans tend to be more business-friendly. But the Trump administration has also shown distrust of giant corporations with outsized market power.

What to watch: A lot rides on whether the Justice Department succeeds in blocking AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner. The outcome of that court case could trigger a new wave of media consolidation, or stop new mergers in their tracks.

Go deeper

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker