OVERNIGHT TECH: Consumer groups applaud DOJ probe of cable companies

The Lead: Consumer groups applauded news on Wednesday that the Justice Department's Antitrust Division is investigating whether cable companies are illegally stifling competition from online video services.

The Wall Street Journal broke the news of the investigation, reporting that federal officials have questioned cable companies including Comcast and Time Warner, as well as Internet video providers such as Netflix and Hulu.

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Cable companies provide both television and broadband Internet service for many customers. High-speed Internet has enabled consumers to watch videos and shows online, instead of on their television. The question is whether the cable companies have illegally used their control over Internet access to prevent people from dumping their television service in favor of online video.

Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, said he was "very pleased" with news of the investigation.

"The future of online competition for cable is being decided right now, and it is crucial that government agencies responsible for protecting the public interest do so," he said in a statement.

"Media and telecommunications giants, which can be one and the same, should not be able to take advantage of their size and reach to eliminate competition and to harm consumers through data caps which favor some content over other based on business relationships, through contract terms that could restrict where programming can be shown, or other means," Feld said.

Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press, said the investigation "is great news for consumers and cable's competitors alike."

"For too long, cable operators have used their dominant positions in both the television and Internet service provider markets to kill off innovation, cut off customer choice and keep prices high," he said.

The Justice Department and all of the companies declined to comment for the Journal's story.

According to the report, federal investigators are looking at the cable companies' use of data caps on Internet traffic. The cable companies say the limits are necessary to prevent congestion on their networks, but consumer groups and online video companies worry that the caps discourage people from watching online videos.

The Justice Department is also investigating Comcast's decision to exempt its Xfinity on Xbox video app from its data limits, the report said. To secure approval for its purchase of NBC-Universal, Comcast agreed to not "unreasonably discriminate" against other companies' traffic. 

Comcast argues there is nothing illegitimate about its treatment of its Xbox app because the traffic travels on its own private network and not the Internet.

Another issue is whether the cable companies are violating antitrust law by requiring viewers to have a cable subscription in order to access certain online programming.

Domain names revealed: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) unveiled thousands of applications for new top-level Web domains on Wednesday.

The list unveiled includes company names, such as .Apple, .Amazon, .Gap, .Ford, .Lexus, .Lego and .JPMorgan, as well as generic names, such as .movie, .music, .hotel, .love, .life, .auto, .news, .pizza and .beer.

Google alone applied for more than 100 domains, including .Google, .lol, .map, .car, .cloud, .dad, .mom, .dot and .fun.

Amazon was close behind, with more than 70 applications, such as .Amazon, .app, .author, .coupon, .book and .shop.

Social media companies Facebook and Twitter, however, stayed out of the action.

Morality in Media, an anti-pornography group, has already lodged a complaint against three adult-themed domains: .sex, .porn and .adult. The group says the domains will only encourage more pornography on the Internet. 

ICANN already approved a .xxx domain for adult websites last year.

But Steve DelBianco, the executive director of NetChoice, a coalition of e-commerce companies, said there were actually few morally objectionable applications. 

“Looking at the applications ICANN released today, we can officially downgrade the tsunami warnings,” DelBianco said in a statement. “Governments should be able to focus their objections on just a handful of ‘rogue wave’ domains rather than a glut of applications that threaten ‘morality and public order.’ ”   

Some groups had warned the expansion could create new domains such as .terror, .jihad, .nazi or .hate.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Lieberman warns July is deadline for cybersecurity bill 

Democrats worry Verizon-cable deal could undermine Telecom Act 

Obama to streamline approval of Internet networks 

Senators attend hacking demonstration 

Sen. Paul proposes bill protecting Americans from drone surveillance 

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