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Media Structures & Regulations

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  • AT&T Working A Customer-Gouging, Anti-Net Neutrality Double-Dip?

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    AT&T may be on the brink of achieving the improbable. The mobile carrier is reportedly considering charging subscribers extra to use Apple's FaceTime video chat app on their mobile phones. Were they to actually do so, they'd likely be in violation of the FCC's net neutrality rules for mobile broadband -- a remarkable feat, given how wildly permissive those rules are.

    With regard to net neutrality, the FCC divides broadband into two categories: fixed and mobile. The rules for fixed broadband are meant to prevent internet providers from blocking or favoring certain types of traffic on their networks, but ISPs are already exploiting loopholes in the regulations to favor their own content. But when it came to mobile broadband, the FCC took a more laissez-faire approach, arguing that it needs to "better understand how the mobile broadband market is developing before determining whether adjustments to this framework are necessary."

    However, one thing the FCC did prohibit is the blocking of video chat and voice-over-IP apps that compete with mobile carriers' telephone service:

    A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider's voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.

    According to TechCrunch, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson isn't denying rumors -- first reported by the Apple-watchers at 9toMac -- that they're considering charging to use FaceTime, saying only that "it's too early to talk about pricing." Preventing subscribers from using Apple's FaceTime (unless they pay AT&T) would certainly seem to run counter to the net neutrality rules, and consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge are letting AT&T know as much. "If AT&T intends to charge users an extra fee to use FaceTime over cellular networks, this would be a clear violation of the FCC's open Internet rules," says PK's Harold Feld.

    So why would AT&T stumble into one of the vanishingly few violations of the net neutrality rule? The allure of the double-dip.

    There is nothing mobile carriers would love more than the freedom to charge twice for the same data. When you sign up with AT&T, you're allotted a fixed amount of data per month. Even if you don't use it, you've already paid for it. If AT&T starts charging to use FaceTime, it will have succeeded in getting you to pay to use the data you've already paid for. The flip side to this scheme is AT&T's other scheme -- verified to be in the works -- to charge app developers for the data their subscribers use, thus charging content providers for access to consumers and vice-versa. That's a more promising avenue for AT&T, as there doesn't seem to be anything in the net neutrality rules to prevent it.

    And it would screw over consumers, as would the rumored FaceTime double-dip, which seems increasingly to be the point.

  • Incoming New York Times Public Editor: "Newspapers Must Be Truth Vigilantes"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Margaret SullivanIncoming New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan says she believes that "newspapers must be truth vigilantes" and that such a focus is "a clear part of our mission."

    Sullivan, whose appointment to the position was announced Monday, will take over the post from current public editor Arthur Brisbane on Sept. 1, 2012.

    Brisbane drew criticism for a January 12 report in which he posed the question, "Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?" In his piece, he said he was "looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about." As Adam Clark Estes observed at The Atlantic Wire, "The immediate answer, everyone we follow [on Twitter] seemed to agree, was a resounding YES."

    In a follow-up post, Brisbane said he had been misunderstood, and that his "inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut 'facts' that are offered by newsmakers when those 'facts' are in question." He added, "I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one." Responding to his original post, Times executive editor Jill Abramson wrote that "[t]he kind of rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing you describe is a fundamental part of our job as journalists" and that "[w]e do it every day, in a variety of ways."

    In an interview with Media Matters, Sullivan, currently editor of The Buffalo News, said she agrees with the contention that newspapers must challenge facts presented by sources or news subjects if they are found to be in dispute, a position she said put her in step with both her predecessor and Abramson.

    "I think that possibly what came out of that was that we all know and Arthur Brisbane knows and Jill Abramson knows and every one of us knows that newspapers must be truth vigilantes and there never really was any question about that I don't think," she said Monday. "Certainly that's a value that we all share and that's not really in question. It's a clear part of our mission, to ferret out the truth. What else are we here for?"

    Asked Monday if accepting answers from subjects and sources at face value is not enough, Sullivan added:

    "For any newspaper, for any news organization, I don't think it's nearly enough, we have to be much more searching. I think that challenging facts and getting to the bottom of statements is central to the mission of journalism. To me, it's a very clear cut kind of thing."

    Sullivan, 55, comes to the Times post after 13 years as editor of The Buffalo News and an employee of that paper since 1980.

    On how she plans to approach the job -- and perhaps differently from her four predecessors -- Sullivan said, "I think that ... the difference is that we live in a very different era right now. It has changed a whole lot in just the past couple of years."

    "We are so immersed in digital culture and the Public Editor's role needs to respond to that. I see this as a way of aggregating the comment and criticism and discussion that's out there into a probably daily or close to daily blog, getting reader comment going in a real time basis and have a true sort of ongoing online conversation with the Times readers about the New York Times," she added.

  • Current's Spitzer: LIBOR Story "Hasn't Yet Broken Through To The Mainstream Media. It Should."

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a prerecorded interview that will air on SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio tomorrow, Current TV host Eliot Spitzer points to the media's failure to cover one of the largest banking scandals in history, the LIBOR rate-fixing story. According to Spitzer, the story "hasn't yet broken through to the mainstream media. It should."

    Indeed, as we noted this morning many major television news outlets have devoted scant coverage to the allegation that major financial institutions have been manipulating the LIBOR, a key interest rate that banks use to borrow money from one another. As we documented, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC have only spent about 12 minutes combined covering the story during their evening newscasts and opinion programming.

    Spitzer, who was known as the Sheriff of Wall Street during his tenure as Attorney General of New York, has provided extensive coverage of the story, airing four segments on his Current TV program, Viewpoint, and two Web exclusive segments on Current's website since July 3. Below, Spitzer discusses the scandal with Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor, and Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets:

    LIBOR is "used as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments" and impacts "lending rates for trillions of dollars of credit, from loans between financial institutions to credit cards and adjustable-rate mortgages" but also impacts local government agencies and municipalities that have financial investments directly tied to LIBOR. 

    The British bank Barclays has already been fined $450 million for its role in rigging the rate, and as many as 20 major financial institutions are reportedly under investigation for their own alleged participation in the scheme.

    MSNBC's Chris Hayes has also used his program to deliver in-depth coverage of this critical news story, providing nearly 19 minutes of discussion on last Saturday's edition of Up With Chris.

    Listen to Spitzer's interview with Media Matters Radio tomorrow on SiriusXM Left 127 at 10 a.m. ET.

    UPDATE: Here's the discussion with Spitzer about the LIBOR scandal from the July 14 edition of Media Matters Radio:

  • FLASHBACK: Franklin Center's Full-Throated Defense Of ALEC

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    As corporate sponsors fled from the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the media's scrutiny increased earlier this year, ALEC's allies at the right-wing Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity rushed to the organization's defense.

    ALEC, which uses donations from major corporations to promote conservative model bills for use in state capitals across the country, came under fire in April from progressive groups. This followed the revelation of ALEC's involvement in voter ID legislation as well as legislation based on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law written by the National Rifle Association and linked to the death of Trayvon Martin. ALEC subsequently eliminated the task force that had approved those model bills, but corporations have continued to abandon the group, with five leaving this week.

    Over a nine day period that month, the Franklin Center published vigorous defenses of ALEC from Franklin Center's president, vice president of journalism, and one of its board members, who acknowledged serving as public sector chair of an ALEC task force.

    Franklin Alec

    Yesterday Media Matters' Joe Strupp noted in a lengthy profile of the Franklin Center:

    The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.

    The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.

    According to the Center on Media and Democracy, a progressive group that monitors ALEC, "The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a 'Vice-Chairman' level sponsor of 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $25,000. The Franklin Center was one of about 60 companies and institutions represented in the conference exhibition hall." In October 2011, CMD reported extensively on the Franklin Center's ALEC ties. 

  • How A Right-Wing Group Is Infiltrating State News Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    When Idaho state legislators proposed a seemingly uncontroversial bill to ban access to commercial tanning beds by minors earlier this year, IdahoReporter.com took up the issue with force.

    The state news website, an affiliate of the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and overseen by the free market Idaho Freedom Foundation, posted six stories on the proposal between Feb. 16 and March 22, when the bill was voted down in a state Senate Committee.  

    The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.

    The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.

  • Cappin' Crunch: DOJ Investigating Data Cap Abuse

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Cable television companies want you to watch cable television. More to the point, they don't want you to cancel your cable subscription and give that money to online purveyors of televised entertainment -- Netflix, Hulu, etc. But that's business, right? Companies compete with each other, and consumers make their choices based on quality of service.

    Not exactly.

    Cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner are also internet service providers. They control the pipes, as such they have the means and the incentive to encourage you to consume cable TV, and discourage you from seeking out online streaming video. Are they engaging in such wildly anticompetitive activities? The Justice Department aims to find out.

    The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that DOJ "is conducting a wide-ranging antitrust investigation into whether cable companies are acting improperly to quash nascent competition from online video." What's at issue? Data caps, and the abuse thereof.