Ars Technica botches another story

Why is it so hard for the tech press report on the broadband business with some semblance of accuracy? I know some of this stuff is complicated, but if it’s your business to explain technology and business developments to the public, isn’t it reasonable to suppose you’re going to get the facts right most of the time?

Case in point is Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica, the hugely popular tech e-zine that was recently purchased by Conde Nast/Wired for $25 million, healthy bucks for a web site. Lasar is a self-appointed FCC watcher who seems to consistently botch the details on targets of FCC action. The most recent example is a story about a clarification to AT&T’s terms of use for its U-Verse triple play service. The update advises customers that they may see a temporary reduction in their Internet download speed if they’re using non-Internet U-Verse television or telephone services that consume a lot of bandwidth. Lasar has no idea what this means, so he turns to Gizmodo and Public Knowledge for explanation, and neither of them gets it either. So he accepts a garbled interpretation of some AT&T speak filtered through Gizmodo’s misinterpretation as the gospel truth of the matter:

Ars contacted AT&T and was told by company spokesperson Brad Mays that the firm has no intention of “squeezing” its U-verse customers. “It’s more a matter of the way data comes into and travels around a home,” Mays said. “There are things (use of PCs, video, etc.) that can impact the throughput speed a customer gets. We are not doing anything to degrade the speed, it’s just a fact of the way data travels.”

The AT&T guy is trying to explain to Lasar that U-Verse TV uses the same cable as U-Verse Internet, but U-Verse TV has first call on the bandwidth. The cable’s bandwidth is roughly 25 Mb/s, and HDTV streams are roughly 8 Mb/s. If somebody in your house is watching two HDTV shows, 16 of that 25 is gone, and Internet can only use the remaining 9, which is a step down from the 10 Mb/s that it can get if you’re running one HDTV stream alongside an SDTV stream.

This isn’t a very complicated issue, and it shouldn’t be so muddled after multiple calls to AT&T if the writers in question were mildly up-to-speed on IPTV.

Lasar botched another recent story on Comcast’s agreement with the Florida Attorney General to make its monthly bandwidth cap explicit as well, claiming that Comcast had adopted the explicit cap in a vain attempt to avoid a fine:

Ars contacted the Florida AG about this issue, and received the following terse reply: “We believe the change pursuant to our concerns was posted during our investigation.” When asked whether this means that when the AG’s probe began, Comcast didn’t post that 250GB figure, we were told that the aforementioned one sentence response explains everything and to have a nice day.

In fact, the cap was part of its agreement with Florida, as the AG’s office explains on its web site:

Under today’s settlement, reached with Comcast’s full cooperation, the company has agreed not to enforce the excessive use policy without prior clear and conspicuous disclosure of the specific amount of bandwidth usage that would be considered in violation of the policy. The new policy will take effect no later than January, 1, 2009.

And everybody who follows the industry knows that. The Comcast cap is also less meaningful than Lasar reports, since Comcast says they’re only going to get tough on customers in excess of the cap who are also in the top 1% of bandwidth consumers, so simply going over 250 GB won’t get you in trouble at the future date in which everyone is doing it.

The tech press in general and Ars Technica in particular needs to upgrade its reporting standards. It’s bad enough when Ars trots out opinion pieces on network neutrality by Nate Anderson thinly disguised as reporting; most sensible readers understand that Anderson is an advocate, and take his “reporting” with the necessary mix of sodium chloride. But Anderson doesn’t consistently get his facts wrong the way Lasar does.

It would be wise for Ars to spend some of the Conde Nast money on some fact-checkers, the better to avoid further embarassment. We understand that Gizmodo is simply a gadget site that can’t be counted on for deep analysis, and that Public Knowledge is a spin machine, but journalists should be held to a higher standard.

Technorati Tags: , ,

One thought on “Ars Technica botches another story”

  1. Agreed, Nate Anderson is awfully one-sided to the point of annoyance. It's unfortunate because much of the research by other tech writers is very informative (e.g., Hannibal and Stokes).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *