You are here

Were AP's Comcast traffic stories "news?" or "balanced?"

Given the Associated Press' mission is to be the essential global news network, providing distinctive news services of the highest quality, reliability and objectivity with reports that are accurate, balanced and informed;" it seems fair to test whether or not AP Peter Svensson's series on Comcast's network management have lived up to AP's high standards. 

  • The AP series in question involves:

First, is this news or did this border on advocacy?

  • Is this news? This series was about technical network minutia that only net neutrality supporters looking for traction would find as "news".
    • These articles are the functional equivalent of an AP reporter conducting a "test" by following around a Fedex truck that is delivering some of the AP's packages and saying:
      •  Aha! my packages were put in the back of the truck!
      • Aha! the driver delayed my delivery for ten minutes to avoid traffic and get a coffee!
      • Aha! Fedex is impersonating me because they put my letter in a Fedex-branded package!
      • This isn't "news"; it is a "dog chases car" non-story.
    • Comcast's network management ensures that the overwheming majority of Comcast users get the quality of service they expect by delaying disruptive, non-time-sensitive traffic. 
      • There is no law or regulation against what Comcast is doing, there is even an FCC policy that explicitly allows for "reasonable network management" like Comcast is doing. 
  • Or is this borderline advocacy?
    • It certainly appears to be.
    • Other than the affected companies, Comcast and BitTorrent, the original AP story only quoted strong net neutrality supporters from FreePress, Google, and Intel. 
      • Is it "the highest quality, reliability and objectivity" or "accurate, balanced and informed" to only present one side of a highly contentious story that clearly has two very different sides? 
        • If the articles said "news analysis" or "opinion," I would have no beef, but these stories were represented as "news." 
    • The first sentence of the first story suggests a hidden advocacy agenda by the writer:
      •  "Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally."
      • The AP reporter thinks it is "news" to counter "tradition" when it says later in the article that: "The practice of managing the flow of Internet data is known as "traffic shaping," and is already widespread among Internet service providers"?
      • The fourth paragraph exposes the not-so hidden agenda: "The principle of equal treatment of traffic, called "Net Neutrality" by proponents, is not enshrined in law but supported by some regulations." 
        • That is factually incorrect reporting.
        • Net neutrality is NOT supported by some regulations and net neutrality has never been applied to cable modem services. Period full stop. 
      • This whole series of articles is predicated on promoting a big change in communications law and de-regulatory Internet policy that has been effectively rejected by the FCC, FTC, DOJ, the House, the Senate, the Administration and the Supreme Court over the last two years.
    • The only "news" in the articles was that the AP reporter made his own actions "news" with a reporter-conducted "test," and then used the test results to create a platform for only net neutrality proponents to comment on.

Second was it sound practice for the AP to self-create news and become the story, rather than just objectively report?  

  • Normally it is wise to avoid the perception of conflicts by avoiding reporting on one's own devised tests.
    • Most people think its a bad idea for a judge to hear their own appeal or for a student to be responsible for grading their own test.
  • This is a very complex area, where there are many plausible and sound explanations for Comcast's network management policies. Unfortunately the articles were silent on these explanations.  

Third, none of the three articles provided Comcast or others the opportunity to explain or make the case why these practices are necessary, responsible and reasonable network management.

  • The quotes from Comcast were exceptionally selective in that they:
    • Only reenforced the reporter's slant on the story;
    • Did not give Comcast's explanation of why their network management was beneficial and appropriate;
    • Did not mention the many reasons why network management is essential to filter: spam, viruses, malware, denial of service attacks, and/or to ensure quality of service.

Bottom line:

These AP news stories on Comcast's network management:

  • were not true news;
  • were not "balanced;" 
  • appeared to be advocacy;
  • were driven off of a flawed and conflicted technical test; and 
  • did not allow for the other side of the story to be told.

Like most things related to net neutrality, net neutrality proponents only make progress with people when they succeed in blocking a free and open airing of the issue on the merits.