The Death of the News Media: How Walter Cronkite Killed My Grandfather

Walter Cronkite dropped out of college in the fall of 1935.  He quit school to pursue a career in the newspaper business.  At the time, many people didn’t realize the true nature of Cronkite’s work.  My grandfather met Walter in…

Okay, I’ll be honest.  My grandfather, to my knowledge, never met Walter Cronkite.  This post actually has nothing at all to do with my grandfather or Walter Cronkite for that matter.  This is an example of how a writer can throw out a deceiving headline with a click bait snippet attached and get you to view something completely unrelated. This happens when a news organization gets desperate when they realize the industry around them has changed, oftentimes in a way that now makes them obsolete.  Instead of admitting to themselves that it’s not working, they instead double down in an attempt to hold on to years gone by.  Think I’m talking about OneStackMind.com?  I’m talking about the entire news media.  I’ll let you in on a secret bigger than Walter Cronkite: the news media is dying and no one wants to admit it.

Back in Walter Cronkite’s days as an anchor for CBS Evening News, he controlled the news.  His 30-minute television show was the face of the media for the entire country.  If there was a story worth hearing, it came from Walter Cronkite.  After Al Gore created the internet for us all to enjoy, some things were bound to change.  Now, instead of one large tube sitting in your living room floor, you have a vast series of tubes that allow you to query any piece of information you care about at any time you want to look for it.  You now have instant access to news, tailored to your likes and dislikes, sent to you through push notifications, triggered as they happen.  You definitely don’t have to wait for the nightly news to tell you what’s going on in the world today.

I think we can all agree that the first to die was the newspaper business.  I am predicting the next to go will be the 24-hour news cycle of cable television stations.  Do you remember when MTV was cool?  You know, when they played music videos and all?  Is MTV even still a station?  The 24-hour news stations are suffering.  Someone in a board room somewhere decided that the way to combat this whole internet fad is to turn away from objectivity and journalistic integrity.  The result is that cable TV news is now in the entertainment business where everything is “BREAKING NEWS.”  Its programming is filled with talking heads, who are nothing more than shock jocks trying to get people to tune in.  Literally, no one out there in cable news cares one bit about giving a balanced interpretation of the news.  The slow and painful death doesn’t stop with just politics; sports reporting has gone downhill along with the news.  ESPN doesn’t show highlights anymore, they get two former athletes to sit on opposite sides of a table from each other and purposely take different sides of an argument.  CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews are no different.  They are each in a nightly competition to see how many picture in picture, guest commentators can fit on one screen.

The main culprit in the ultimate demise of cable networks will be or is social media.  I am envisioning it going something like the photography business.  25 years ago cameras were expensive and very few people could afford professional quality equipment.  If you wanted family pictures, done you had to go to a studio, where you stood in uncomfortable poses, in front of hideous backdrops.  As the cost came down and the quality of cameras greatly improved, everyone became a part-time photographer.  Half ofmy friends on Facebook have photography businesses on the side.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  What I am saying, though, is that because of this phenomenon, there are fewer and fewer full time photography studios.  Along those same lines, with Twitter and Facebook everyone is now a makeshift news reporter.  If you see a car wreck on the interstate, you will pull out your phone and complain about traffic long before the local news even knows something has happened.  Why wait for the news to pull a smartphone video from social media and report it on their website?  Why wait for an interview with a celebrity or politician, when you can follow them directly on Twitter and learn what they ate this morning for breakfast?  You now can even get the play by play from inside the white house directly from the horse’s mouth.  It’s cutting out the middleman in a way that makes a lot of journalists very, very nervous.

 

I’m not saying anything earth shattering here that you don’t already know.  That’s kind of my point, actually.  Everyone knows it but the cable news just won’t admit it.  One day you will find yourself experiencing the dull pain that comes from listening to Rachel Maddow drone on for what feels like hours or Sean Hannity telling everyone how it feels to be a proud American, and you will think back to this article and realize these people are a far cry from Walter Cronkite.  And that’s the way it is…

On Data Caps and “Fairness”

Since Suddenlink Communications implemented data caps in my area several months ago, I have cycled through different levels of anger about it. On the low end, I feel a mild annoyance.  On the high end, I’m so angry that I’m ready to swear off all technology and communicate with my family only by telegraph and horse-carried post.

Unfortunately, that would probably end poorly for me, not least because having reliable high speed internet is one of the basic requirements of my job. So, I’m left looking for alternatives. In my area, there seem to be two options:

  1. Continue tolerating Suddenlink’s data caps, or
  2. Switch to Frontier‘s DSL, which is advertised at 24mbps, about 1/6 of the advertised Suddenlink speed that I pay for, 150mbps.

Until late last year, I was actually very happy with my Suddenlink service. While my speeds were often 30-40% less than what I was paying for (“Up to 150Mbps” actually seems to mean “around 100mbps” at the best of times), they were pretty consistent, and, honestly, very few applications actually use that much bandwidth at one time, so it doesn’t really matter that they don’t deliver on what they offer. Still, it is worth pointing out that if I paid them 30-40% less (because I agreed to pay up to $X / month), they’d be shutting me down pretty quickly on that.

Late last year, though, they implemented their data caps. At the 150Mbps tier, the data cap is 450GB/mo.

I’ve got a few complaints about that.

First, let’s look at the fact that the caps are pretty dishonest, since they’re not generally mentioned in  the advertising.

The data plan I pay for is the 150Mbps plan. Here is everything Suddenlink tells you about their plan on their website. Note that there’s nothing there about a data limit in their advertising.

150Mbps is 150 megabits per second. That’s 18.75 MB/s (there are 8 megabits (mb) per megabyte (MB)), or 1.62 million MB/day(18.75*60*60*24).  That’s 1,600GB/day, which is 45,360 GB / month (in February, anyway).  So, Suddenlink is advertising 150Mbps, but given that they limit me to 450GB/mo, I’m only allowed to average 1% of their advertised limit.  That’s 18kbps if you do the same kind of math as above in reverse (450GB/month is 16GB/day is 670MB/hr is 11.17MB/min is 18.6kbps).

The best dial-up modems transferred data at 56kbps. So, they’re selling bandwidth that is, effectively, 1/3 that of Dial-up, and advertising it like it’s 2,000 times better (56kbps vs 150,000kbps). A friend of mine described like selling a McLaren with only 5 gallons of gas (and you’ve got to pay 50% of the purchase price to get each additional half gallon).

Additionally, the data caps were slipped in with new contracts that they described as “free upgrades”. Another bit of sleight-of-hand, intended to slip the caps in on their customers without being upfront about it.

Second, let’s look at the given justification for the caps.

Here’s how Suddenlink justifies the data caps:

Consistent with our Acceptable Use Policy and Residential Services Agreement, Suddenlink has applied monthly data plans to residential Internet accounts in most of its service areas. Data plans are one step among several that help us continue delivering a quality Internet experience for our customers. Other steps include the sizable investments we’ve made and continue making to provide greater downstream and upstream system capacity and more bandwidth per home. Even with those investments, a relatively few customers use a disproportionate amount of data, which can negatively affect the Internet experience of those who use far less. That’s why, as a complement to our network investments, we’ve established data plans. In short, we want to help make sure the vast majority of our customers continue to have a great Internet experience — and that the relatively few who consistently use much more data than normal have a choice: either use a little less or pay a little more. We believe that’s a fair and reasonable approach.

Emphasis mine.

Data is not a limited resource. When I stream a movie from Netflix, that movie is not gone. Anyone else who wants it (and pays for it) can stream it. Downloading data doesn’t cause extra wear and tear on the infrastructure, and Suddenlink doesn’t have to pump more data into a reservoir to supply everyone.

Bandwidth, on the other hand, is limited, and it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that those who use more bandwidth should pay more in order to do so… and we do. I pay more for the 18kbps – sorry, 150mbps – service because I want to be able to download new games from Steam or the Xbox store quickly, even while my wife is watching Hulu and I’ve got Netflix streaming on my tablet (yes, I multi-task a lot).

Finally, let’s look at the real reason behind the caps

This last bit is speculation, but, given the known facts, I think it’s a pretty solid conclusion.

  1. Cable companies, traditionally, are more than ISPs. They also provide video services in the form of television subscriptions.
  2. Cable television subscriptions are dropping due to “cord cutting,” where individuals move to online streaming services for their video.
  3. Some internet service providers (notably, Comcast, which is also a huge cable company) tried to fight their competitors by cutting the bandwidth available for services that use the most bandwidth (whether it is a coincidence that these services are the same competitors that are causing cable tv subscriptions to drop, I’ll leave up to the reader).
  4. The FCC, in early 2015, took a proverbial ruler to the knuckles of those ISPs, implementing net neutrality rules that prevented that behavior.
  5. After their attempt to curb bandwidth usage was foiled, data caps were implemented (Comcast had implemented data caps prior to that, but Suddenlink had not).

Given these facts, I think it’s clear that the intent of these data caps is not, in fact, to “fairly” protect those who pay for less bandwidth from those of us who use more. It seems more likely that Suddenlink and other cable companies are trying to protect themselves instead.  They were stopped from extorting money from their competitors directly with the Net Neutrality rules, so they’re attacking the problem from the other direction, forcing those of us who use those competitors services heavily (whether in conjunction with other internet activity or not) to pay more.