It’s been a long while since we last discussed the platform war that started between Steam and Epic several years back. The crux of the situation was that Epic began offering a far better revenue split for game publishers compared with Steam, with something like a 10-20% delta in how much of the revenue Epic takes versus Steam. This led to all kinds of public reactions, particularly as Epic began gobbling up game and publisher exclusives as part of that revenue split offering. In general, the public sentiment was essentially: yes, pay publishers more, but to hell with your exclusives.
Ubisoft was one of the publishers that jumped into Epic’s arrangement back in 2019. At the time, the company said Steam’s revenue split made remaining on the store unattractive. Well, it’s three years later, and if you want to take the temperature on how well Epic is doing in keeping publishers away from Steam, guess who just got back on Valve’s platform?
“We’re constantly evaluating how to bring our games to different audiences wherever they are, while providing a consistent player ecosystem through Ubisoft Connect,” a Ubisoft spokesperson said in a statement provided to the press.
Ubisoft isn’t a one-off case, either. Activision Blizzard had also been off of Steam for some time but recently came back to the platform.
So, what does this mean? It means there is more to the value of a platform than just a revenue split agreement. Say what you want about Steam and how it operates, but the platform has built a robust following and a massive market share percentage. Between that and the familiarity gamers have with Steam, the fact is that the delta in revenue splits may not make up the difference for publishers looking to move the most amount of titles.
The platform wars aren’t over, of course, but they also aren’t going to end in a trouncing by one side or the other.
We should always be wary when a government entity charged with ending [insert issue here] declares said issue ended. We should be doubly wary when a Chinese government agency says anything about anything.
China has resolved the problem of game addiction among its youth, a report co-written by the country’s top gaming industry association said, in remarks likely to be welcomed by the regulations-battered sector.
The comment came from a report by the China Game Industry Group Committee, affiliated with the online game publishing regulator, China Game Industry Research Institute and data provider CNG, CNG said on its official WeChat account on Tuesday.
Parents and government officials (some of whom are both) have always felt the youths are spending too much time playing video games. The Chinese government, however, has made it a government issue. Whether or not “video game addiction” is really a thing doesn’t seem to matter. The government has declared it to be a problem and now the Chinese video game industry is in the uncomfortable position of acting against its own best interests.
The more games people play, the more they buy — whether it’s new games or very profitable add-ons, like expansion packs, cosmetic items, or simply paying to win. But with regulators breathing down the neck of the local video game industry, the industry has responded by… well, at the very least, claiming video game addiction is no longer a problem in China.
Here’s what happened late last year:
Chinese regulators in September last year stepped in with new rules barring anyone under 18 from playing video games for more than three hours a week…
How the video game industry was supposed to apply this restriction was left up to video game developers. This is yet another weird rule pushed by the Chinese government, which has frequently targeted gaming and gamers in an attempt to strengthen the nation (or whatever). The rule put into place last year was immediately gamed by gamers, which made it appear as though the three-hour time limit was being followed. In response to the new restriction, an entire sub-industry devoted to selling or renting adult-owned video game accounts was ushered into existence.
So, the supposed success is likely nothing more than minor gamers moving to adult-held accounts to bypass restrictions. But a victory on paper is apparently enough to declare victory in public — something the Chinese government can point to as evidence that its populace wastes less time than pretty much every other nation in the world. It’s a supremely hollow win, but that could be said about plenty of Chinese government “wins,” especially when it comes to regulating leisure activities.
Maybe this is the Chinese government hoping to put one of its many issues to bed. In 2008, a minor, who poisoned his parents, blamed his “video game addiction” for his actions. With this addiction officially (if not actually) ended, future killers will have to come up with different excuses for their psychopathy.
A few weeks ago the FBI and DOJ seized a bunch of domain names associated with Z-Library, an online repository of millions of unauthorized copies of ebooks. The DOJ also issued an indictment of the two Russian nationals (who were arrested in Argentina), who were accused of running the site. I still have significant reservations about the constitutionality of seizing domain names over copyright infringement claims, but if you’re going to run a site like that, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that eventually the US government is going to go after it.
That said, I was fascinated by a piece by author Alison Rumfitt over at Dazed coming to a defense of Z-Library, and suggesting that other authors should do the same. She notes that she supports the site, even if she did lose revenue from people downloading her books from it:
The site probably did lose me some revenue, but I don’t think it would have been all that much: I get a certain small amount for every book bought by a shop, rather than for every book actually sold. This builds up and then twice a year I get sent a cheque. That being said, even if Z-Library did lose me a large amount of income, I don’t think I’d like to see it destroyed in my name
She notes that there are perfectly good, none “theft” reasons why people might want to download such ebooks:
I think the most telling thing is the use of steal as a verb. Is piracy stealing? I know that old, quite-scary video that played on VHSs said so, but is it actually stealing? Theft? Pirating books over websites such as Z-Library is simple to a degree where I couldn’t call it that. When I worked as a carer, the 70-year-old man I worked for used the site to get ebooks of books which he already had in his physical collection but was unable to read due to disability. I’m not sure I’d say he was stealing those books, he already owned them after all.
As she notes, getting words out there and more widely available should be seen as a societal good:
Of course, specifics are specifics for a reason; the majority of people downloading from Z-Library are likely not people in that position. Mostly they’re people trying to get books they want to read for no money. But even then, I’m not sure I can call that stealing – the hunger to read is something to be encouraged, something which, in my opinion, is a societal good; even as publishing grows ever more overtly capitalist and monopolised, reading still thrives, and piracy allows it to take place despite borders and Digital Rights Management. Not everyone has access to a library, and not every library in the world is well-stocked.
Indeed, she notes that copyright is really there to help the publishers way more than the authors themselves:
I do understand the position of some authors who would disagree with me here. I get why authors who are trying to make a living inside the machinery of capitalism might feel personally affronted when people access their work for free – many of us are lacking in money and power, even if people often assume we have both in spades. But the solution, this solution, the destruction of accessibility to works and the arrests of individuals by US forces, is far worse than the problem. When we side with the idea of copyright, we side with the structure that hurts authors in a far deeper way than losing us sales; we side with the publishers who, through their endless trend-chasing, leave many brilliant writers behind in the dust. There are books currently out-of-print in the UK and America that I could access there, such as the works of subversive writer Heather Lewis or a good portion of Samuel R Delaney’s output. It’s possible to believe that authors deserve fair treatment and pay and to take a more nuanced approach to this issue; not only possible, in fact, it might well be the only way forward.
We’ve noted for years now that in the book world, while there certainly are some authors who completely go along with the copyright maximalist view, others are a lot more nuanced. Many authors are horrified by what publishers are doing in their name using copyright as an excuse. This has been true for years. Remember famed author Paulo Coelho’s discussion on why he “loves” those who pirate his works? He had even gone so far as to “pirate” his own works… and found that it actually helped sales!
Copyright is a blunt instrument, and it’s frequently used in problematic ways. In a time when we’re (1) enabling greater access to information and (2) creating new and better ways to support creators (often which don’t rely on copyright at all), it really does seem like it’s time to reconsider how copyright itself works. In its current form it is a legacy tool that supports gatekeepers (book publishers, record labels, movie studios) way more than it helps actual creators. And that’s not even getting to how it harms the fans themselves, by assuming, upfront, that they must be criminals or have criminal intent for merely wanting to share amazing creativity and artwork that they enjoy.
Congress has a bad habit. They have stopped passing substantive legislation through normal procedure, debate and votes. The legislative process as designed by our Founders is not happening. Instead, Congress is saving most of its actual policy-making legislation for large end-of-the-year bills that can combine hundreds of separate pieces of legislation. And if reports are accurate, we could be shaping up for the granddaddy of them all this December. This process must change, particularly for bills as highly controversial and constitutionally concerning as the misleadingly named Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA).
The inclusion of controversial and poorly vetted legislation in these mega legislative packages is nothing new. In 2020 as lawmakers rushed off to their winter holidays, Congress included language in must-pass COVID relief that made unauthorized commercial streaming a felony that could lead to ten years in jail. Another controversial and likely unconstitutional small claims copyright tribunal was created at the same time, resulting in a colossal waste of time, money and resources. The CASE Act had only one hearing that had no witnesses from outside industry before inclusion in must-pass lame duck legislation.
This is a terrible way to make sound public policy.
This year, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), is taking the lead as one of the most troubling riders being considered for the end of this Congress. This legislation uses antitrust law to circumvent constitutional guardrails for freedom of speech within copyright law, will boost the hedge funds and big media corporations already hurting local news, and would force Internet platforms to carry and pay for even the most extreme and false content coming out of “news” organizations.
Despite an outpouring of opposition from twenty diverse organizations – ranging from small publishers, civil society groups, and copyright law experts – and significant concerns raised by bipartisan Senators at the markup, there has not been sufficient public discussion of the harmful, reverberating impacts the JCPA would have on local news and the online information landscape. Flouting legislative debate and regular order is bad enough. It’s even worse when prospective legislation like the JCPA violates the Constitution and is poised to overhaul how consumers access information online.
Since massive media conglomerates like Gannett and Alden Global Capital stand to reap a financial windfall if it passes, it’s no surprise that the JCPA was drafted in conjunction with these conglomerates’ lobbyists behind closed doors. This insular process resulted in the bill’s language only being shared the day before a Senate markup and many Senate Judiciary members also raised serious concerns about the JCPA’s constitutionality and its intentional beneficiaries: massive media conglomerates. Additionally, the process purposely turned a blind eye and ignored the many more structural problems facing local news. An FTC discussion draft on the issues facing local journalism found that the approach being taken by the JCPA is ill-advised.
So far, the legislative process surrounding the JCPA has been opaque. What is clear, however, is that massive media conglomerates’ fingerprints are all over it. Despite the best efforts of hedge funds and umbrella corporations like Gannett and Alden Global Capital to force this through Congress, there are numerous policymakers willing to acknowledge the JCPA’s expansive unintended impacts. Now, it’s time for Congress as a whole to recognize that legislation as controversial and constitutionally concerning as the JCPA deserves careful consideration on its own. If the JPCA cannot stand on its merits alone, then Congress should not include it as a rider on end-of-year legislation.
Josh Lamel is the Executive Director of the Re:Create Coalition.
You know, it was just a few weeks ago that we posted an open letter to Elon Musk laying out just some of the basics of speedrunning the content moderation learning curve. And, as people keep reminding me, he seems to be doing all the levels all at once.
But here’s the incredible bit: unlike most other sites that actually learn something from all of this, Elon still doesn’t seem to be getting it at all. He’s fucking around and finding out… but not actually learning anything as he bumps into each level.
Let’s cover some of the highlights.
First up, Twitter (signed just as “Twitter” rather than naming who wrote it as Twitter used to do), put up a blog post claiming that nothing at all has changed in their content moderation policies. Almost everything about the statement is bonkers or easily disproved (or sometimes both). It starts out by claiming that it wants “to be the town square of the internet,” which is a line people have often used to try to describe Twitter, but has always been false. As we’ve noted, the “town square” is the internet itself. Twitter is one private venue on the town square. Claiming otherwise is counterproductive, because it opens the company up to all sorts of bullshit claims about “censorship” and whatnot.
As for the more specific claims in the post:
First, none of our policies have changed. Our approach to policy enforcement will rely more heavily on de-amplification of violative content: freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.
This is demonstrably false. Indeed, just days earlier, Twitter announced that its policies had changed, specifically in removing its rules against spreading Covid misinformation. Literally days before insisting that “none of our policies have changed” Twitter updated its Covid misinformation page to say:
Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.
Separately, clearly Twitter’s content moderation policies have changed, because Musk did one of his infamous polls and said he was going to “give amnesty” to accounts that had previously violated the policies, and has been in the process of reinstating approximately 62,000 accounts that had previously been banned.
That… is a change in policy.
As for diminishing the “reach” of “violative” posts, that sounds exactly like “shadowbanning,” which was one of the great sins that Musk insisted he was taking over Twitter to cure.
Our Trust & Safety team continues its diligent work to keep the platform safe from hateful conduct, abusive behavior, and any violation of Twitter’s rules. The team remains strong and well-resourced, and automated detection plays an increasingly important role in eliminating abuse.
This is also bullshit. The Trust & Safety team has been gutted by layoffs and the “non-hardcore” resignations. As that article notes, while Elon Musk keeps claiming publicly that his “top priority” is to stop child sexual abuse material (CSAM), he has effectively destroyed the already overworked team that was tackling that problem:
Elon Musk has dramatically reduced the size of the Twitter Inc. team devoted to tackling child sexual exploitation on the platform, cutting the global team of experts in half and leaving behind an overwhelmed skeleton crew, people familiar with the matter said.
The team now has fewer than 10 specialists to review and escalate reports of child sexual exploitation, three people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
And for things like that you can’t just turn the dial on the “automated detection” and say “we now need fewer people.” Anyone with any experience in this stuff knows that while automation is an important tool in the trust & safety toolbox (especially around CSAM) it only works in conjunction with human experts, the majority of whom are no longer at the company.
Next on Twitter’s list:
When urgent events manifest on the platform, we ensure that all content moderators have the guidance they need to find and address violative content.
That has not been shown in practice. Indeed, we’re seeing the opposite play out. There has been a rash of highly questionable account suspensions, most of which were mass reported by the Trumpist grifter crew.
And talking about “urgent events,” there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter over the last few days about the powerful protests in China regarding that country’s Covid lockdown policies. And China has flooded Twitter with spam to try to obscure those reports, making it difficult for people doing searches to find legitimate content about the protests:
Numerous Chinese-language accounts, some dormant for months or years, came to life early Sunday and started spamming the service with links to escort services and other adult offerings alongside city names.
The result: For hours, anyone searching for posts from those cities and using the Chinese names for the locations would see pages and pages of useless tweets instead of information about the daring protests as they escalated to include calls for Communist Party leaders to resign.
And it’s not at all clear that Twitter has the resources or “guidance” to deal with that. In fact, what we’ve seen is that accounts that were actually promoting on-the-ground reporting about the protests were shut down instead. Freelance journalist Clarissa Wei called out two examples: a Hong Kong based journalist and a Taiwanese writer who both had their accounts suspended.
While later reports said that both accounts had been reinstated, it appears that the Taiwanese writer’s account is still currently offline.
Also, reports earlier this week highlighted how videos of the Christchurch shooting from a few years ago were being reuploaded to the platform and no longer being caught by Twitter’s automated filtering system. That’s… noteworthy. Because the rapid effort by all of the tech companies to flag and remove exactly that video is literally the prime example used by governments and social media companies of how those companies need to be able to respond “urgently” to sudden crises.
And it’s somewhat amusing how Musk and his fans were absolutely unwilling to accept the “mistakes happen” explanation for pre-Musk content moderation issues, but now demand that everyone be extra forgiving as Musk “learns the ropes” and “experiments” here.
Indeed, this new Twitter statement includes a line about giving them the benefit of the doubt as mistakes will inevitably be made:
Finally, as we embark on this new journey, we will make mistakes, we will learn, and we will also get things right. Throughout, we’ll communicate openly with our users and customers, to get and share your feedback as we build.
And, again, that’s what happened before, but Musk and crew still insist (without any proof) that when those mistakes happened before they were for malicious reasons, but now they’re somehow righteous experiments.
Then, of course, there are the other aspects of the content moderation learning curve that we’ve discussed: outside pressure from advertisers, governments, and partner companies. And we’re seeing all of them play out in real time as well. Leaked reports say that advertising may be down somewhere around 50%. And Elon went ballistic over Apple apparently pulling ads and potentially threatening to remove Twitter from the app store, though Elon met with Tim Cook and claimed to have patched things up. Apple was apparently Twitter’s largest advertiser, so you can see why it was important.
Of course, as Twitter’s former head of Trust & Safety recently noted, the threats to remove the app from the app store are not a new thing at all. It apparently happens all the time.
And then we have the EU. As we explained all the way back in May, Musk did a very stupid thing in “endorsing” the new Digital Services Act which comes into force in January of 2024. Earlier this week, the European Commission’s Thierry Breton (who had met with Musk back in May) had another meeting with Musk and basically warned him that the company did not appear ready at all to meet the requirements of the DSA. And, well, that’s because all of the people who were working on getting the company ready (which is a massive job) have left.
It’s being reported that the EC threatened to ban Twitter, but that’s a bit hyperbolic. The DSA isn’t going to lead to an outright ban. But it will create real issues for Twitter if the company doesn’t change.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing. We’ve been screaming about the risks and dangers of the DSA for years now. And we should be extremely worried about governments telling companies how to moderate speech. But it is a reality. A reality that Musk now needs to deal with.
Every one of these things are issues that everyone knew was coming. Most of them we’ve written about for years, and highlighted in our “speedrunning” post.
But the somewhat incredible part is that Musk doesn’t seem to be learning anything from any of this, and instead seems focused on remaking every single mistake in the book.
Indeed, he’s even making new and more ridiculous mistakes. Just yesterday he tweeted out that Twitter “interfered in elections,” which seems quite likely to now show up in lawsuits against Twitter (he seems to not realize that in buying the company he is also now liable for things the company may have done under previous ownership). This is leaving aside that the claim of “interfering in elections” is almost certainly bullshit. He’s still created a massive new liability for himself.
There are so many examples of this, but it’s quite clear that whereas most people actually seem to pick up some lessons while moving up the learning curve, Elon Musk seems to just be making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over again.
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In March 2019, we reported that a Washington federal court has tossed (definitively) a lawsuit brought by two Seattle police officers who believed being called murderers gave them a cause of action.
It did not. Seattle councilwoman Kshama Sawant did not actually call these two cops — Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding — murderers. Instead, she simply made some statements about the police department as a whole and called the shooting of Che Taylor during an undercover drug bust a “murder.”
This is from the court’s original decision:
According to the SAC [second amended complaint], Councilmember Sawant, while standing in front of the Seattle Police Department, stated that “the police” committed a “brutal murder” which was “racially motivated.” Councilmember Sawant did not identify Officers Miller and Spaulding by name, nor did she provide any information that would even remotely allow listeners to ascertain their identities, such as their rank or position, division or unit, precinct, or length of time on the force. Finally, Councilmember Sawant’s statements referred broadly to “the police,” the “Seattle Police Department,” and “systematic police brutality and racial profiling.”
With that, the court dismissed the defamation lawsuit against Sawant with prejudice, which meant the cops were completely out of luck when it came to suing the councilmember over these statements. (It did allow the lawsuit to proceed against the city of Seattle, although that effort was also doomed to fail.)
And that would have seemed to have been the end of it. Except it wasn’t. The cops appealed the decision, resulting in the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court overturning the lower court’s ruling in November 2021. The Appeals Court disagreed with the assertion quoted above, saying that just because the statements could be read to refer to the PD generally, it also could be read to refer specifically to the involved officers who filed the defamation lawsuit.
The panel disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that no reasonable person could conclude that Sawant’s remarks concerned the individual officers but rather spoke to broader issues of police accountability. The panel held that at most, the district court identified one reasonable interpretation of Sawant’s words, not the only reasonable interpretation. Where a communication is capable of two meanings, one defamatory and one not, it is for a jury, not a judge, to determine which meaning controls. Here, Sawant’s words reasonably carried with them the defamatory meaning Plaintiffs had assigned to them.
Back to the district court the case went. And the cops were allowed to file a third amended complaint, in hopes of making the allegations stick. The officers claimed Sawant’s statements were not only defamation under state law, but under federal law.
The only claim at issue in Sawant’s Motion is Plaintiffs’ “federal defamation” claim, which the Court has previously explained can only be pursued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. That is because there is no federal common law or federal statutory cause of action for defamation.
That leaves the officers with a Section 1983 claim, which means they’re alleging Sawant violated their rights “under the color of law” when she referred to their killing as a “murder.” But they did not bother to detail whether they were pursuing these claims against her in her personal or official capacity. The court makes that determination for the officers.
Here, there is no real contest that Sawant is sued in her personal capacity. Because Plaintiffs seek damages from Sawant, there exists a presumption she is sued in her personal capacity. Plaintiffs offer no rebuttal. And because Plaintiffs have not sued the City of Seattle, they would be unable to obtain damages from Sawant if she was sued in her official capacity. In their Opposition, Plaintiffs oddly argue that Sawant is sued “both as ‘an elected official’ and in her individual capacity.” But Sawant cannot be sued under Section 1983 in her “individual capacity” (outside of her role as a councilmember) because her actions would then not be taken under “color of state law.”
With this settled, the court goes back to the defamation allegations, as pursued here under Section 1983. But there’s nothing there for the officers, since the key part of a 1983 claim is a deprivation of rights via a government official’s actions. In this case, the alleged defamation must have led to a violation of the cops’ rights to create a cause of action. But nothing happened here, outside of some hurt feelings.
First, neither officer is alleged to have been disciplined or terminated from employment as a result of the Sawant’s remarks. Just the opposite, both were cleared through the inquest convened by the King County prosecutor, and through the reviews conducted by the OPA, FIT, FRB, and Seattle Police Department. And although Plaintiffs allege that “[t]he fairness of the inquest hearing was implicated by the defamation,” they affirmatively allege that they were cleared by an “impartial jury”. This undermines any claim that the alleged defamation was in connection with a termination or alteration in their employment rights.
The officers also tried a Hail Mary play in an attempt to salvage this lawsuit. But courts don’t care much for arguments raised at the last minute that are unsupported by litigants’ declarations. And even if the court were inclined to give these last-minute assertions credence, they still wouldn’t change anything.
In their opposition, Plaintiffs claim “they were forced to undergo a ‘reopening’ of sorts of the prior investigations into the shooting” and there was a “threat to their careers . . . if they did not cooperate fully.” These new allegations are not supported by any declaration and are not included in the Third Amended Complaint. They are therefore not properly considered on the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. But even if the Court considers these allegations, they fail to show the deprivation of a liberty or property interest. They merely confirm that Plaintiffs remained employed.
The statements made by Sawant also did not violate the officers’ First Amendment rights.
Plaintiffs here allege that Sawant’s comments have damaged their reputations, “turned [their lives] upside down,” caused their “families [to] suffer,” and Plaintiff Miller “had to move” and transfer his children out of the Seattle School District. But Plaintiffs fail to identify or explain how these alleged acts show an injury to the right of association. There are no allegations that Plaintiffs were unable “to enter into or maintain intimate human relationships.” And these allegations do not show that they were unable to speak, assemble, exercise their religion, or seek redress of grievances. The Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to allege an injury to their First Amendment right of association.
Sawant’s comments also did not violate the “right to family integrity.”
Plaintiffs fail to allege how Sawant’s comments deprived them of their ability to have custody or control of their children or to choose how to educate their children. Plaintiffs allege they “watched their families suffer,” but there are no allegations that the family integrity was impacted. And although Plaintiff Miller alleges he had to move, he does not allege that Sawant’s remarks interfered with this right to choose how his children were educated. In full, the complaint states: “Detective Miller, whose children attended the Seattle School District, had to move.” He does not allege he changed their school or that Sawant’s remarks was a proximate cause of that change. Even if he had, they would not show a deprivation of the right to choose where his children were educated. These allegations, construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs fail to show the deprivation of a right to family integrity.
And one hopes the suing officers appreciate the irony of qualified immunity being awarded to the councilwoman. So, even if they had managed to credibly allege their rights had been violated, Sawant would still be able to exit the lawsuit. Since the officers are pursuing this as a Section 1983 suit, Sawant must be considered to have been acting in her official position. QI applies. If she was sued in her personal capacity, there’s no lawsuit.
The cops want it both ways. And the court won’t allow it.
Plaintiffs also suggest that qualified immunity cannot be granted because there is a dispute of fact as to whether Sawant’s “comments were part of her role as an elected official or not.” They argue that “Sawant has not even attempted to explain how her comments were part of her role as a City of Seattle Council member.” As the Court has explained, if Sawant did not act as a councilmember, then Plaintiffs have no claim under Section 1983. She can only be sued if she made the comments as a councilmember. As such, Plaintiffs identify a self-defeating dispute of fact.
The lawsuit is dismissed. Again. The court says the cops can take another swing at it if they choose to, granting them leave to amend (for the fourth time!) the claims that have already failed twice. The officers have painted themselves into a corner with every amended complaint. But given the fact that this is in its third year of litigation, it seems the officers are more than willing to pick up more paint.
Back in 2014, Comcast introduced a new $1.50 per month surcharge on cable bills it called its “Broadcast TV Fee.” Said fee was really just a portion of the cost of doing business for Comcast (programming costs), busted out of the full bill and hidden below the line — designed specifically to let the company falsely advertise a lower price.
Fast forward to 2022 and the fee has jumped to $27 a month, with recent hikes as high as $7.35 a month in some areas:
Comcast’s advertised prices do not include the Broadcast TV or the Regional Sports Network fees even though these fees account for a large portion of customers’ actual monthly bills. On Comcast’s ordering website, the base prices are listed along with a message stating that Broadcast TV and Regional Sports fees are “extra” and that the price is “subject to change.” The Broadcast TV and Regional Sports fees also aren’t included in how Comcast calculates promotional pricing and thus can be raised even when a customer’s promotional rate hasn’t expired.
This is something that cable giants have been doing for decades. It’s effectively false advertising, and allows them to pretend that they aren’t consistently raising rates. And, as the quote above notes, it even allows them to raise prices on you if you’ve agreed to a promotional rate.
A 2019 Consumer Reports study found that about 24% of consumer cable bills are comprised of bullshit fees, generating cable giants $28 billion in additional revenue annually. The problem is just as bad over among phone companies selling broadband (see Centurylink’s utterly nonsensical “Internet Cost Recovery” fee).
Occasionally, a state AG will dole out a brief wrist slap for the practice that only costs Comcast (or Charter, or Centurylink) a tiny fraction of the money they made off the misleading fees. Federal regulators, regardless of party, have generally given their tacit approval to the practice, much as they have in the banking, airline, and other industries. Ripping people off creatively is innovative, apparently.
The Biden FCC’s big solution to this and other nickel-and-diming efforts has been to demand a voluntary nutrition label, letting you more clearly see how you’re getting ripped off. Actually stopping big telecom monopolies from ripping you off (or even acknowledging that it’s happening using pointed language) is unfortunately just a bridge too far.