Who owns, controls, or influences media and telecommunications outlets.

T-Mobile CFO: ‘Non-sustainable’ Lifeline Business to be Phased Out

T-Mobile’s business selling service to low-income users whose costs are paid, at least in part, through the Universal Service Fund (USF) Lifeline program is “non-sustainable,” said Braxton Carter, T-Mobile chief financial officer. T-Mobile Lifeline customers represent 4.4 million of the carrier’s 73 million subscribers and “we’re going to eliminate them from the base,” said Carter.

Carter attributed the change in direction to changes in the Lifeline program associated with requirements for voice and data service. The changes to the Lifeline data apparently relate to the FCC’s plan to raise the minimum monthly allotment to 2 gigabytes in 2018 from an initial 500 megabytes. “We don’t think Lifeline is a valuable or sustainable product for our base,” he said. Based on Carter’s comments, some or all of those customers apparently are sold through companies that buy service from T-Mobile on a wholesale basis. Meanwhile, smaller rural carriers have been reluctant to offer Lifeline broadband because the rate they would have to charge for the service would be in the range of $100, which the $9.25 discount wouldn’t go far to cover – a situation the rural carriers attribute to an insufficient USF program budget.

AT&T uses forced arbitration to overcharge customers, senators say

Five Democratic Sens allege that AT&T's use of forced arbitration clauses has helped the company charge higher prices than the ones it advertises to customers. The senators pointed to a CBS News investigation that described "more than 4,000 complaints against AT&T and [subsidiary] DirecTV related to deals, promotions and overcharging in the past two years." But customers have little recourse because they are forced to settle disputes with AT&T in arbitration, according to Sens Al Franken (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Edward Markey (D-MA).

"Forced arbitration provisions in telecommunications contracts erode Americans' ability to seek justice in the courts by forcing them into a privatized system that is inherently biased in favor of providers and which offers virtually no way to challenge a biased outcome," the senators wrote in a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. "Forced arbitration requires consumers to sign away their constitutional right to hold providers accountable in court just to access modern-day essentials like mobile phone, Internet, and pay-TV services." Forced arbitration provisions such as AT&T's also "include a class action waiver; language which strips consumers of the right to band together with other consumers to challenge a provider's widespread wrongdoing," they wrote. When contacted, AT&T argued that arbitration is better for consumers than courts of law.

Justice Department OK With Liberty-GCI Deal

The Justice Department is apparently OK with Liberty Interactive's proposed purchase of Alaska telecom GCI. That came in an early termination notice released June 8. That means the DOJ has found no reason to try and block or condition the deal and put an early end to its Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust review. The Federal Communications Commission must still weigh in on the deal. It goes beyond antitrust to look at the public interest impact of mergers in the communications space. That review will not be concluded until at least next month. On May 19, the FCC created a pleading cycle for the deal, with comments due June 19 and reply comments due July 5. The $1.1 billion deal was struck in April.

NCTA Proves Virtuous Cycle Works

[Commentary] Recently, NCTA, the trade association for the industry formerly known as cable, posted this amazing graph and blog post showing that the "virtuous cycle" the Federal Communications Commission predicted would happen when it adopted the Open Internet rules (a.k.a. net neutrality) back in December 2010. Indeed, as the NCTA graph shows (based on the latest Akamai State of the Internet Report), the average speed of broadband connections has not only continued to rise since the FCC first adopted net neutrality rules in 2010, but the rate of increase has accelerated since the FCC adopted the Title II reclassification Order in February 2015. Finally, as NCTA also points out, in the approximately 10 years since the FCC first began to enforce net neutrality through the "Internet Policy Statement" and the Comcast/BitTorrent Complaint, the cost of moving bits from their source to your home has dropped 90 percent on a per bit basis. (Whether we are actually still paying too much because of our lack of competition in the broadband market is something of a different question.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this matches the findings from Free Press' Derek Turner in this massive and meticulously documented report, "Broadband Investments And Where To Find Them." But it's still nice to see NCTA confirm it.

Free Press: FCC's UHF Discount Decision Makes No Sense

Free Press and the other challengers to the Federal Communications Commission's decision to reinstate the UHF discount have told a federal court that it makes no sense for the FCC to reinstate a rule it concedes is obsolete "based on the mere possibility that the Commission will, in the future, open a proceeding to consider something that, as of now, a majority of the Commission believes it cannot or should not do." That came in their filing in support of a request for an emergency stay of the implementation of the UHF discount, which was scheduled to happen June 5 but was delayed by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to allow more time for it to consider that stay request and the FCC's response. The filing was also in response to Sinclair's intervention in support of the FCC and in opposition to Free Press' motion for stay.

In defending the stay to the court, Free Press attorneys pointed out that even in voting for returning the discount, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he did not think the FCC had the authority to adjust the statutorily-set 39% cap on a TV station group owner's national audience reach, the reconsideration of which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had given as a reason for reinstating the discount he conceded was likely obsolete and instead reviewing the discount along with the 39% cap.

Frontier laid off WV state Senate president after broadband vote it didn’t like

Broadband provider Frontier Communications recently laid off the West Virginia state Senate president after a vote the company didn't like—and yes, you read that correctly. West Virginia does not have a full-time legislature, and state lawmakers can supplement their part-time government salaries ($20,000 a year, according to BallotPedia) with jobs in the private sector. West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson County) was also a sales manager for Frontier. But after six years with the company, Frontier terminated his employment on May 26. The dismissal came just weeks after Carmichael voted for a broadband infrastructure bill that was designed to bring faster speeds, lower prices, and more competition to Internet customers. It was described as a layoff in local press reports, but Carmichael said in multiple interviews that he believes the Senate vote led to his newfound unemployment.

Bay Area Internet providers thriving in the era of net neutrality

Over the last two years, the Bay Area’s (CA) community of Internet service providers has been tapping into the region’s bottomless demand for faster speeds at competitive prices. Take Sonic in Santa Rosa (CA). The high-speed broadband provider has doubled in size since 2015, according to CEO Dane Jasper, bolstering its ranks by 188 employees in 2016 alone. The company now employs 418 workers. The Bay Area’s broadband boom, in short, is confounding Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s assurances that the FCC’s approach to regulating Internet providers was stifling the development of Internet infrastructure.

The FCC is working through a proposal that would unwind network neutrality rules, leaving Internet providers to largely regulate themselves when it comes to maintaining an open Internet — a development with troubling consequences for Jasper's Sonic. “We’ve continued to invest in infrastructure deployment and in fact, we’re more concerned about the unlevel playing field that a lack of net neutrality could create,” he said.

Media Consolidation Is a Threat to Democracy

[Commentary] Media consolidation is a threat to our republic. The Federal Communications Commission and members of Congress who oversee the FCC are supposed to protect localism. The FCC gives away free licenses to use the public airways. In return, those licensees promise to address the local needs of the community. But do they?

In 2018, we will have a chance to elect members of Congress who understand this, are ready and willing to make sure that whatever favors FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gives to the Sinclairs of our country are stopped cold and that the FCC begins to serve the public, not the big donors.

[Mark Lloyd is a clinical professor of communication at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Previously Mr. Lloyd has been the General Counsel of the Benton Foundation.]

The Case for Media Impact

What does it mean for a journalistic organization to put the goal of impact at the center of its mission? In this report, we explore this question through the lens of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its explosive project, “Evicted and Abandoned,” in which a collaborative reporting project of more than fifty reporters and fifteen organizations in twenty-one countries took on the World Bank.

Part One of the report introduces the current impact conversation in the media arena and describes ICIJ’s structure and strategy. Part Two traces the forerunners to some contemporary journalists’ discomfort with the notion of impact as a goal for media, and finds that, in fact, the notion of journalistic impact is nothing new. In Part Three, we examine how ICIJ’s impact imperative affects the organization’s approach to story choice, production, and distribution. The report also covers the challenges associated with this model and suggests what other journalistic organizations can learn from the experience of ICIJ.

FCC Closes Docket on 'Spectrumless' Station Sale

The Federal Communications Commission has closed the docket on the proposed sale of the post-auction assets of Hero Licenseco's KBEH Oxnard (CA) to KWHY-22 Broadcasting, Los Angeles (CA) accepting the withdrawal of the license transfer application by the parties. Hero had proposed to sell its license and must-carry rights after also submitting the winning bid to sell the spectrum of KBEH in the broadcast incentive auction.

The FCC opened a docket on the sale, asking for comment on that first-of-its-kind proposal to sell the license of a station that no longer had spectrum—the FCC had allowed such auction winners to retain their license and must-carry rights, which the stations signaled they planned to use by sharing spectrum with another station and so staying on the air, though the FCC did not mandate they do so even after signaling that was their intention. KBEH struck such a sharing deal with KWHY, which remains the case, apparently, after the sale was called off.