Communications-related Headlines for 4/14/99

Gary Handman (
Thu, 22 Apr 1999 16:30:36 -0700 (PDT)

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>Subject: Communications-related Headlines for 4/14/99
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>Communications-related Headlines is a free daily online news
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> Electronic Tax Filing Service Crashes at Crunch Time (WP)
> Senate Wants FCC to Study Broadband (WP)
> Internet Access and the Consumer (Senate)
> Internet Providers' Demands On High-Speed
> Data Rejected (NYT)
> Northern Telecom Plays Down Phone Roots,
> Embraces 'I Word' (WSJ)
> Pencils Down: End of Paper Test Raises Questions
> Regulatory Classification of Low-Power Television Licensees (House)
> Truth-in-Billing (NTIA)
> High-Tech Heads Discuss News Shift (SJ Merc)
> With Free PCs, You Get What You Pay For (WSJ)
> America Online Is Facing Challenge Over Free Labor (NYT)
> Computer Age Gains Respect of Economists (NYT)
>Issue: Technology
>People intent on working on their income tax forms online Tuesday got a
>surprise when both Intuit's TurboTax and WebTurboTax were unavailable for
>about 14 hours. Intuit officials said the company, anticipating heavy use
>this week, backed up their preparation services Monday night. As a result
>the service was not available until 12:30 PM Tuesday. The popular services
>had filed 1.2 million tax returns through their online services as of last
>Thursday. Electronic-filing has grown rapidly this year, encouraged by the
>Internal Revenue Service. Companies like Intuit have attracted customers by
>promising faster refunds.
>[SOURCE: Washington Post (Online), AUTHOR: Associated Press]
>Issue: Broadband
>In a Senate hearing yesterday Senator John McCain (R-AZ) rejected calls from
>some Internet service providers and America Online for immediate legislation
>to stop cable services from offering exclusive high-speed Internet services
>via cable lines. Sen. McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee,
>said he would soon introduce legislation with bipartisan backing mandating a
>study by the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department's
>National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Sen. McCain said
>the study would also cover the extent to which high-speed services were
>being made available in rural and low income areas. The FCC in February
>declined to conduct a formal study of cable broadband services but said it
>would continue to monitor the evolving marketplace. Subscribers choosing
>Internet services from cable companies do not have a choice of Internet
>service providers and must accept service providers owned by the cable
>companies. AOL chairman Steve Case told the Senators, "I oppose regulation
>of the Internet but the broadband infrastructures on which the Internet
>rests -- whether cable, telephone or other -- must be open." However, on
>Internet connectivity using cable, Cox Communications president James Robbins
>said, "Government regulation will impede its progress, not help its
>[SOURCE: Washington Post (Online), AUTHOR: Reuters]
>See also:
>[SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News, AUTHOR: Associated Press]
>Issue: Internet Access/Competition
>The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on how to facilitate the
>deployment of faster, higher-speed Internet access services. URL below
>offers a link to Chairman John McCain's (R-AZ) opening statement as well PDF
>versions of the witness' testimony (except AOL's Steve Case). Witnesses:
>Mr. James Robbins, President and COO, Cox Communications, Inc.; Mr. Charles
>Brewer, CEO, Mindspring Enterprises, Inc.; Mr. William L. Schrader, Chairman
>and CEO, PSINet Inc.; Mr. Solomon Trujillo, President and CEO, US West; and
>Mr. Steve Case, Chairman, America Online. Sen McCain said the hearing would
>address two questions: 1) what problems might result from the fact that
>cable modem service only gives its subscribers *limited* choice in accessing
>a high-speed Internet service provider? 2) what problems might result from
>the fact that 98 percent of residential consumers have *no* high-speed
>Internet access *at all*, and that rural and low-income consumers may get it
>significantly later than their urban, higher-income counterparts? Sen
>McCain's closing statement reads (in part): The Commerce Committee will meet
>again on April 21 to develop more insight on these issues. After that
>hearing, I will introduce legislation that will require NTIA, in
>collaboration with the FCC, to analyze the facts and the issues involved in
>the ongoing deployment of advanced broadband data networks, especially in
>rural and low-income areas, and jointly report their findings to us. To
>realize our full potential as individuals and as a nation, we must assure
>that the benefits of advanced broadband technology are available to
>everyone. I intend to do everything I can to make sure that the promise of
>advanced telecommunications becomes a reality for all of us.
>[SOURCE: US Senate]
>See also:
>Issue: Broadband/Regulation
>On Tuesday at a hearing of Senate Commerce Committee, Senator McCain (R-AZ),
>rejected AOL chief executive, Stephen M. Chase's plea to force cable
>to "open their networks to competitors for high-speed data, or broadband
>services." McCain answered the plea instead by announcing a plan to file a
>proposal to require the Commerce Department and the Federal Communication
>Commission to "analyze the facts and issues on the deployment of broadband
>technology." In February the FCC said they didn't want to launch a formal
>but that they would monitor the broadband market. McCain says his biggest
>concern is rural communities that may not be attractive to investors. AOL is
>concerned that cable companies will leave them behind as consumers move their
>telephone wire Internet connections to high-speed connections offered.
>Hollings criticized Baby Bells for holding 98 percent of the access and not
>implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Solomon D. Trujillo,
>of US West, responded by saying that FCC rules are too "cumbersome" and delay
>the process. In addition, competitors aren't developing high-speed access
>aren't serving rural areas. William Schrader of PSINet says, an Internet
>service provider says that Bell companies say they would move to rural
areas if
>rules were relaxed. He says this argument doesn't make sense because the
>fastest-growing type of telephone connection, digital subscriber lines (DSL)
>only for customers 18,000 feet from the central phone office.
>[SOURCE: New York Times (C26), AUTHOR: Jeri Clausing]
>Issue: Telephony/Advertising
>Northern Telecom is touting a new image and a new name. Nortel has
launched an
>advertising campaign that emphasizes its role in the Internet business rather
>than the telephone business. The ads are targeted at decision makers who
>be likely to purchase corporate equipment, but reach a slightly broader
>audience. The ads feature a 50-something CEO giving a speech that is
really the
>lyrics of the Beatle's song, "Come Together." The ads have aired during
>"60-minutes," NBA games, and Sunday morning political talk shows. Nortel's
>are the latest in a trend among phone companies to allude to Internet chic. A
>recent ad for long distance company, Quest asks customers to "ride the
>instead of picking up the phone. Nortel's use of Internet imagery is
>somewhat. It uses technology called Internet Protocol, (or IP) that, "enables
>phone companies to transport voice, video and data over a single network."
>Nortel says the mass-marketed ads help build value for the company,
despite the
>fact that most viewers aren't likely to buy Nortel products. The majority of
>Nortel's profits come from selling to telephone companies and businesses.
>[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (B2), AUTHOR: Stephanie N. Mehta]
>See also:
>[SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News, AUTHOR: Monua Janah]
> [SOURCE: New York Times (C2), AUTHOR: Seth Schihesel]
>Issue: Education Technology
>The Educational Testing Service officials say "no more" to paper-and-pencil
>versions of the Graduate Record Examination. US test takers will now have to
>take the exam on a computer. As technology improves, ETS officials believe,
>computer examinations will be increasingly more sophisticated and better
>able to assess skills than paper versions. But the change has sparked
>opposition. Opponents say the new tests raise concerns that need to be
>addressed, such as whether some people do better on paper versions, and that
>the testing service should, at least for now, continue to offer paper as an
>option. Last year, when both versions were offered, opponents note about
>half the test-takers opted for the paper test. The computer format is also
>an issue since it is a "computer-adaptive test," meaning that the computer
>adapts its questions to what it perceives to be the test-taker's ability. It
>does not allow test takers to skip a question and come back to it or
>underline important points in a reading passage. ETS officials say there are
>several good reasons to do it on computer: students get their scores
>immediately, the computer test does not take as long as the paper test, and
>the tests can be given more often. The Graduate Management Admission Test
>has been offered only on computer for two years, and major licensing exams
>in nursing and architecture are now also paperless. The S.A.T., sponsored by
>the College Board, has a pilot project started but has no immediate plans to
>move to computers.
>[SOURCE: New York Times (CyberTimes), AUTHOR: Pamela Mendels]
>Issue: Broadcasting
>Hearing summary on H.R. 486, the Community Broadcasters Protection Act
>intended to preserve low-power television stations that provide substantial
>local programming to small communities throughout the nation. Witnesses at
>the hearing: Mr. Roy J. Stewart, Federal Communications Commission; Dr.
>Arthur Stamler, WAZT-LPTV; Mr. Michael Sullivan, Community Broadcasters
>Association; Mr. Jim May, National Association of Broadcasters; Mr. George
>E. DeVault, Holston Valley Broadcasting Corporation; and Mr. Ron Bruno,
>WBGN-TV. URL below provides links to Mr. Stewart's and Mr. May's comments as
>well as remarks by Rep Thomas Bliley (R-VA), Chairman of the House Commerce
>[SOURCE: House of Representatives]
>Issue: Telephone Billing
>NTIA filed a letter with the FCC in CC Docket No. 98-170 expressing support
>for the goals of the Commission's Truth-in-Billing and Billing Format
>proceeding: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration
>(NTIA) supports the Commission's efforts to ensure that
>customers know exactly what they are paying for. This information is
>important and necessary to make competition work. Consumers will be better
>equipped to make informed buying choices in an increasingly competitive
>market if they can easily determine what services they receive, from whom,
>and at what price. Equally important, clear and simple bills should help
>consumers to detect inappropriate charges resulting from either billing
>error or fraud. Consumers, for example, should have sufficient information
>to detect slamming practices, involving an unauthorized switch to a new long
>distance carrier, and to detect cramming practices, involving charges for
>services not ordered or received. We also urge the Commission to expedite
>enforcement actions against carriers that engage in slamming and cramming.
>Issue: Content
>High-tech leaders Tuesday told newspaper executives they are going to move
>their content onto the Internet, make those stories interactive, and improve
>in-depth coverage in their print versions. Traditional newspaper journalism
>has shifted in recent years to the World Wide Web to compete with Internet
>news sources that deliver information as it breaks rather than waiting for
>the morning or afternoon edition. "I think you have to realize that the
>Internet is a whole new medium, not an extension of what you have been
>doing," said Cox Interactive Media vice president Hilary Goodall. The
>discussion came in San Francisco at the annual convention of the American
>Society of Newspaper Editors.
>[SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News, AUTHOR: Martha Mendoza (Associated Press)]
>Issue: InfoTech
>Free PCs aren't really free. As competition surges among the new trend
over the
>last two months, companies like Gobi, DirectWeb, and the first
>one out -- Free PC are offering a number of deals. InternetSquid, Gobi and
>DirectWeb charge a monthly service fee in exchange for a "midrange PC"
>(33-megahertz processor, four-gigabyte hard drive and 32 megabytes of
>Intersquid and Gobi require customers to sign a lengthy lease of the PC and
>charges a hefty cancellation fee. DirectWeb allows month-to-month payment,
>requires a $150 deposit. The companies really differ on their exploitation of
>consumer's demographic information. While some customers say it is a way for
>people without a lot of money to have a computer, companies may be targeting
>higher income folks who are attractive to advertisers. For example, Free PC
>charges no monthly fee and cancellation is simple with no charge. But, in
>to get the service customers must fill out a survey, describing income,
>hobbies, and other information advertisers like to know. Also, Free-PC
>its first 10,000 customers, which may be a way to target higher income
>customers. DirectWeb offers a 3 tiered service. You can pay $19.95 a month or
>$49.95 a month and for different levels of service. Gobi's service is
$25.99 a
>month with a promise of upgrading customer's technology -- including
>replacing standard modems with cable.
>[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (B1), AUTHOR: David P. Hamilton]
>Issue: Jobs
>America Online has long depended on the kindness of volunteer "community
>leaders" to perform a range of tasks including answering questions,
>supervising chats, and enforcing AOL rules. These volunteers, of which there
>currently are 10,000, receive free service as payment for their commitment
>of a minimum of four hours of work per week. Seven former AOL volunteers are
>now asking the labor department to determine if the company's practices
are in
>violation of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act which requires companies
>to compensate people for time spent on job-related activities that benefit
>the employer.
>[SOURCE: New York Times (A16), AUTHOR: Lisa Naploi]
>Issue: Economy
>While the impact of the Information Revolution can be felt in workplaces and
>classrooms -- from Main Street to Wall Street, scholars are still debating
>the effect of technology on the economy. Through the early 1990s
>productivity was nearly stagnate, leading top economist to question
>technologies contribution to the economy. Starting around 1996, however,
>there was a dramatic upswing in productivity growth, which nearly doubled
>pace from the rates of the past two decades. Daniel Sichel, an economist at
>the Federal Reserve wrote in a recent article that the nation's improved
>productivity performance, is "raising the possibility that businesses are
>finally reaping the benefits of information technology." The answer to the
>question of whether technology is responsible for the nation's recent streak
>of high growth and low inflation could have significant policy
>ramifications. A problem arises from increasing difficulty in actually
>assessing the impact of computer and communications on the output of the
>nation's booming service sector. Erik Brynjolfsson, an associate professor
>at the MIT Sloan School of Management, explains that the economic value of
>speed, quality improvements, customer service and new products are often not
>captured by government statistics. "We need a broader definition of output
>in this new economy, which goes beyond the industrial-era concept of widgets
>coming off the assembly line."
>[New York Times (A1), AUTHOR: Steve Lohr]
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>The Benton Foundation's Communications Policy and Practice (CPP)
>( Communications-related Headline
>Service is posted Monday through Friday. The Headlines are highlights
>of news articles summarized by staff at the Benton Foundation. They
>describe articles of interest to the work of the Foundation -- primarily
>those covering long term trends and developments in communications,
>technology, journalism, public service media, regulation and philanthropy.
>While the summaries are factually accurate, their often informal tone does
>not represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by
>Kevin Taglang (, Rachel Anderson (, Ted
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"Everything wants to become television" (James Ulmer -- Teletheory)