Comcast deal to buy Time Warner Cable poses quandary for regulators, questions for consumers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- With a single behemoth purchase, Comcast is creating a dominant force in American entertainment and presenting federal regulators with an equally outsized quandary: How should they handle a conglomerate that promises to improve cable TV and Internet service to millions of homes but also consolidates unprecedented control of what viewers watch and download?

Comcast, which was already the nation’s No. 1 pay TV and Internet provider, says its $45.2 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable will provide faster, more reliable service to more customers and save money on TV programming costs. If the acquisition is approved, Comcast will serve some 30 million pay TV customers and 32 million Internet subscribers.

But industry watchdogs say the deal will give the company too much power and ultimately raise the price of high-speed connections.

"How much power over content do we want a single company to have?" said Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a Washington-based consumer-interest group.

The all-stock deal approved by the boards of both companies trumps a proposal from Charter Communications to buy Time Warner Cable for about $38 billion. It also represents another giant expansion following Comcast’s $30 billion purchase of NBCUniversal, operator of networks like NBC, Bravo and USA, which was completed last March.

Male, female or custom? Facebook adds options for users to self-identify

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) -- You don’t have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant has added a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them.

Facebook said the changes, shared with The Associated Press before the launch on Thursday, initially cover the company’s 159 million monthly users in the U.S. and are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual.

"There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world," said Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, who worked on the project and is herself undergoing gender transformation, from male to female. On Thursday, while watchdogging the software for any problems, she said she was also changing her Facebook identity from Female to TransWoman.

"All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it’s kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are," she said. "This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is."

Facebook, which has 1.23 billion active monthly users around the world, also allows them to keep their gender identity private and will continue to do so.

Debt vote shrouded
in secrecy to limit financial, political fallout

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Financial markets were watching, the retirement accounts of millions of Americans on the line.

Nervous senators were watching too, well aware that political fortunes could be on the line.

So on perhaps the most important vote of the year, the Senate did something extraordinary this week: It tried to keep the vote tally secret until the outcome was assured.

As lawmakers voted Wednesday on must-pass legislation to increase the government’s debt limit, they dropped the parliamentary equivalent of a curtain on the voting as it was in progress.

Typically, roll-call votes in the Senate play out in a very public manner. People watching from the galleries or tracking action from afar via C-SPAN can watch democracy unfold in all its messy wonder.

Activists: Syrian airstrikes, shelling kill 400 so far this month in Aleppo’s rebel areas

GENEVA (AP) -- The United States and Russia promised to try to break the stalemate in Syria peace talks, a U.N. mediator said Thursday, as Syrian activists said government shelling and airstrikes with makeshift barrel bombs killed about 400 people in the country’s largest city so far this month.

A second round of peace talks in Geneva has offered a rare opportunity for conversation, but yielded little more than acrimony. The violence has escalated on the ground and delegates in Geneva have failed to even agree on an agenda for the talks.

U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said after meeting with senior U.S. and Russian officials that they pledged to try help.

"They have kindly reaffirmed their support to what we are trying to do and promised that they will help both here and in their capitals and elsewhere to unblock the situation for us because until now we are not making much progress," he told reporters.

He met with U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov to try to salvage the talks.

Worker at Sochi Olympic sliding track struck by bobsled, airlifted to hospital

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Olympic officials are trying to determine why a worker on the track used for sliding sports at the Sochi Games was in the path of a speeding bobsled that crashed into him, causing leg injuries and a concussion.

A forerunning sled sent down the track to make sure conditions were suitable for two-man training crashed into the worker Thursday at the Sanki Sliding Center, an incident that could have been far worse and immediately harkened memories of the on-ice death of a Georgian luger at the Vancouver Games four years ago.

The unidentified worker broke both his legs and was airlifted to a nearby hospital where he underwent surgery and was said to be doing well, an Olympic official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because medical information on the worker has not been released.

Sliding officials who reviewed video of the incident saw three men working near the finish line, two of them safely scurrying over the wall as the bobsled neared. The subsequent investigation quickly revolved around suspicions that the workers could not hear any announcement that a sled was coming down the track.

One possibility was that the man, who was using a motorized air blower, simply may not have been able to hear any announcement.

Doctor convicted of waterboarding companion’s daughter

GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) -- A Delaware jury convicted a pediatrician Thursday of waterboarding his companion’s daughter by holding the child’s head under a faucet.

The jury deliberated for about six hours before returning its verdict against Melvin Morse, 60.

Morse was charged with three felonies, two for alleged waterboarding and one for alleged suffocation by hand. He was convicted of one felony -- waterboarding in the bathtub -- and five misdemeanors.

Morse did not show any immediate reaction after the verdict. He could face several years in prison. Sentencing was set for April 11.

Defense attorneys argued that "waterboarding" was a term jokingly used to describe hair washing that the girl did not like.