AT&T and Comcast claim “anti-robocalling milestone” with new Caller ID tech

An AT&T logo.

AT&T and Comcast today said they’ve completed a successful cross-network test of a new Caller ID authentication system, and they plan to roll out the technology to consumers later this year.

AT&T and Comcast are among the phone providers implementing the new “SHAKEN” and “STIR” protocols, which use digital certificates to verify that Caller ID numbers aren’t being spoofed.

Today’s AT&T/Comcast announcement said the carriers completed “an exchange of authenticated calls between two separate providers’ voice networks that is believed to be the nation’s first.” They called the test an “anti-robocalling fraud milestone.”

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AT&T raises DirecTV Now price—again—after promising lower post-merger bills

An AT&T logo on the side of a building.

AT&T is reportedly raising the price of DirecTV Now by $10 a month and notifying current subscribers that they will pay the new, higher price starting in April.

DirecTV Now packages today cost $40 to $75 a month before add-ons such as HBO, and current customers will reportedly pay $10 a month more regardless of which package they subscribe to, making the prices $50 to $85. News reports say AT&T is also reconfiguring its channel packages for new subscribers, adding HBO to basic packages while eliminating dozens of channels that aren’t part of the AT&T-owned Time Warner Inc. New customers will reportedly be able to choose from two slimmer plans costing $50 or $70 a month.

The price hike and channel reduction are happening despite AT&T promising that its acquisition of Time Warner would lower prices for customers. When the Department of Justice tried to stop the merger, AT&T told a judge in a May 2018 court filing that the merger “will enable the merged company to reduce prices.”

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Sprint steps up fight against AT&T’s “fake 5G” with full-page Sunday NYT ad

Screenshot from an AT&T commercial showing text that reads,

Sprint is warning customers not to be fooled by AT&T’s “fake 5G” claims.

One month after suing AT&T, Sprint took out a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times to spread the word that AT&T’s “5G E” is really just 4G. The ad takes the form of an open letter and begins:

Dear wireless consumers,

While Sprint is working hard to deliver mobile 5G and the first 5G smartphone in the US, AT&T is hard at work trying to convince you that they already won the race to 5G with something they call “5G Evolution.” That is simply untrue.

Don’t be fooled. 5G Evolution isn’t new or true 5G. It is fake 5G. They would love for you to believe they are different… better. The truth is AT&T is simply offering customers a nationwide 4G LTE network just like Sprint and all the other major wireless carriers. It’s not 5G.

We filed a lawsuit against AT&T demanding that they immediately end their false and deceptive marketing campaign.

AT&T seems to be delighted by the depth and breadth of their deception. AT&T admitted that the company’s 5G E advertising is strictly a narrative to outline how they want the world to work—not a reflection of today’s reality.

Sprint’s open letter repeated its own misleading claim that it needs to merge with T-Mobile in order to deliver a robust nationwide 5G network. Still, Sprint said it plans to offer “real mobile 5G in nine major metro areas” by this summer, regardless of whether the merger is approved.

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AT&T to revamp DirecTV Now with new plans bundling in HBO, price hikes

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in December the company would soon adjust the content mix on its DirecTV Now streaming service and raise the monthly subscription to around the “$50 to $60” point – meaning, at least $10 per month more than it is today. This week, AT&T is preparing to follow through on those plans by increasing the prices for its existing tiers by $10 per month. It’s also launching two new packages to replace its existing multi-tiered lineup, both of which bundle HBO into their channel lineups.

This is not the first time AT&T has leveraged HBO to entice streaming subscribers – it has also tried bundling free HBO in its wireless plans, and is preparing to launch its own WarnerMedia streaming service which will include HBO along with movies and other original content. 

The news of the DirecTV Now plan changes was first reported by Cord Cutter News. We’ve since independently confirmed the report’s accuracy.

Currently, DirecTV Now offers a variety of price points for its streaming TV service, starting at $40 per month for the Live a Little plan with over 65 channels. Its three tiers above that – Just Right, Go Big, and Gotta Have It – increase the lineup to 85, 105, or 125 channels, respectively, for $55, $65 or $75 per month. The service also offers a Spanish language-focused plan, Todo Y Mas, for $45 per month.

All of these packages are now being “grandfathered in” with the changes to DirecTV Now’s service and will no longer be offered to new subscribers. And all will see their prices increase by $10 per month.

The Brazilian International package, DirecTV Now Espanol, and other Premium channels will also see price increases, but not for customers who subscribed before March 12, 2019.

Existing DirecTV Now customers will be notified of these price changes in emails being sent out starting tomorrow, March 12. The increase will go into effect within 25 days of that notification.

In place of DirecTV Now’s currently multi-tiered service are two new plans: Plus and Max.

Plus will offer over 40 channels for $50 per month including local stations, sports and news along with ESPN, CNN, Fox News, Disney Jr., TNT, Hallmark Channel and Bravo, and premium networks HBO, HBO Family, and HBO Latino!.

Meanwhile, DirecTV Now Max will offer over 50 channels for $70 per month. This includes everything already in Plus, along with more national sports channels like CBS Sports Network, ESPNews, ESPNU, Fox Sports 2, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel, and Regional Sports Networks. On the premium front, Max will also include Cinemax.

In addition to the new plans, AT&T will launch streaming versions of its DirecTV packages: Entertainment, Choice, Xtra, Ultimate, and Optimo Mas. These are online-only versions of the plans, and may include fewer channels than offered to satellite TV customers.

Entertainment includes over 65 channels for $93 per month; Choice is $110 per month for over 85 channels; Xtra is $124 per month for over 105 channels; Ultimate is $135 per month for over 125 channels; and Optimo Mas is $86 per month for over 90 channels.

These pricing and plan changes should not be a surprise to those following AT&T’s news.

CEO Randall Stephenson told investors the company was planning to thin out the content available on DirecTV Now in order to keep only those channels that are “really relevant to customers.”

The pricing adjustments come at a time when AT&T’s streaming subscriber base is in decline. In its Q4 earnings, the company lost 267,000 DirecTV Now subscribers, ending the year with fewer customers (1.6M) than it had in Q2 (1.8M). With DirecTV Now’s promotional offers ending, some customers may have fled to rival services like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, which now have a combined 3 million subscribers, according to Bloomberg.

AT&T declined to comment on the changes.

Venture investors and startup execs say they don’t need Elizabeth Warren to defend them from big tech

Responding to Elizabeth Warren’s call to regulate and break up some of the nation’s largest technology companies, the venture capitalists that invest in technology companies are advising the presidential hopeful to move slowly and not break anything.

Warren’s plan called for regulators to be appointed to oversee the unwinding of several acquisitions that were critical to the development of the core technology that make Alphabet’s Google and the social media giant Facebook so profitable… and Zappos.

Warren also wanted regulation in place that would block companies making over $25 billion that operate as social media or search platforms or marketplaces from owning companies that also sell services on those marketplaces.

As a whole, venture capitalists viewing the policy were underwhelmed.

“As they say on Broadway, ‘you gotta have a gimmick’ and this is clearly Warren’s,” says Ben Narasin, an investor at one of the nation’s largest investment firms,” New Enterprise Associates, which has $18 billion in assets under management and has invested in consumer companies like Jet, an online and mobile retailer that competed with Amazon and was sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion.

“Decades ago, at the peak of Japanese growth as a technology competitor on the global stage, the US government sought to break up IBM . This is not a new model, and it makes no sense,” says Narasin. “We slow down our country, our economy and our ability to innovate when the government becomes excessively aggressive in efforts to break up technology companies, because they see them through a prior-decades lens, when they are operating in a future decade reality. This too shall pass.”

Balaji Sirinivasan, the chief technology officer of Coinbase, took to Twitter to offer his thoughts on the Warren plan. “If big companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are prevented from acquiring startups, that actually reduces competition,” Sirinivasan writes.

“There are two separate issues here that are being conflated. One issue is do we need regulation on the full platform companies. And the answer is absolutely,” says Venky Ganesan, the managing director of Menlo Ventures. “These platforms have a huge impact on society at large and they have huge influence.”

But while the platforms need to be regulated, Ganesan says, Senator Warren’s approach is an exercise in overreach.

“That plan is like taking a bazooka to a knife fight. It’s overwhelming and it’s not commensurate with the issues,” Ganesan says. “I don’t think at the end of the day venture capital is worrying about competition from these big platform companies. [And] as the proposal is composed it would create more obstacles rather than less.”

Using Warren’s own example of the antitrust cases that were brought against companies like AT&T and Microsoft, is a good model for how to proceed, Ganesan says. “We want to have the technocrats at the FTC figure out the right way to bring balance.”

Kara Nortman, a partner with the Los Angeles-based firm Upfront Ventures, is also concerned about the potential unforeseen consequences of Warren’s proposals.

“The specifics of the policy as presented strike me as having potentially negative consequences for innovation, These companies are funding massive innovation initiatives in our country. They’re creating jobs and taking risks in areas of technology development where we could potentially fall behind other countries and wind up reducing our quality of life,” Nortman says. “We’re not seeing that innovation or initiative come from the government – or that support for encouraging immigration and by extension embracing the talented foreign entrepreneurs that could develop new technologies and businesses.”

Nortman sees the Warren announcement as an attempt to start a dialogue between government regulators and big technology companies.

“My hope is that this is the beginning of a dialogue that is constructive,” Nortman says. “And since Elizabeth Warren is a thoughtful policymaker this is likely the first salvo toward an engagement with the technology community to work collaboratively on issues that we all want to see solved and that some of us are dedicating our career in venture to help solving.”

Trump to staff on AT&T/Time Warner merger: “I want that deal blocked!”

President Donald Trump speaking to a crowd.

President Donald Trump tried to pressure the Department of Justice into blocking AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner Inc., according to a new report by The New Yorker. However, White House staff apparently ignored the president’s orders to pressure the DOJ, and it’s not clear whether Trump ever made any demands to the DOJ directly.

The New Yorker report—titled “The Making of the Fox News White House”—details Trump’s close relationship with Fox and his disdain for Fox competitors that provide less-glowing news coverage of his presidency.

Trump has long made his hatred of CNN well-known, and during his campaign he promised to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of CNN owner Time Warner. The Trump administration’s DOJ in November 2017 filed a lawsuit to block AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner. But whether Trump had intervened wasn’t clear—AT&T ultimately succeeded in court and completed the merger, despite failing in an attempt to prove that Trump meddled in the merger review.

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WarnerMedia hires Bob Greenblatt in leadership shuffle

Changes are afoot at WarnerMedia.

Last week, Richard Plepler announced that he was leaving the CEO role at HBO, following reports that WarnerMedia and its new corporate parent AT&T were pushing for the network to get bigger and broader. Turner president David Levy is also departing.

Today, WarnerMedia announced that former NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt (who The Hollywood Reporter had previously said was a likely hire) has joined as chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer. That means Greenblatt will be in charge of HBO, TBS, truTV and the forthcoming WarnerMedia streaming service.

The company announced other leadership changes at the same time: CNN head Jeff Zucker will become the chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports (which includes Turner Sports, Bleacher Report and AT&T’s sports networks, as well as CNN) and president of CNN. Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara is taking charge of a new kids and young adults business that will include Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang . (He’ll also be leading Otter Media and Turner Classic Movies.) And Turner International president Gerhard Zeiler is becoming WarnerMedia’s chief revenue officer.

“Adding Bob Greenblatt to the WarnerMedia family and expanding the leadership scope and responsibilities of Jeff, Kevin and Gerhard – who collectively have more than 80 years of global media experience and success – gives us the right management team to strategically position our leading portfolio of brands, world-class talent and rich library of intellectual property for future growth,” WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said in a statement.

In addition to tinkering with its leadership structure, WarnerMedia has also been culling its existing streaming services in advance of its big direct-to-consumer launch.

HBO to produce 50% more original content this year under AT&T’s ownership

The HBO logo on a TV screen with static.

HBO is planning to produce 50 percent more original content this year, even as new owner AT&T reportedly plans significant layoffs across its Time Warner subsidiary.

WarnerMedia, the AT&T division created after its June 2018 acquisition of Time Warner, told Ars today that it is planning to reduce costs for “duplicative back-office functions,” while increasing investment in producing content. WarnerMedia today also issued a press release announcing a reorganization that will create four business divisions “around entertainment networks, live programming, content production, and affiliate and advertising sales.”

“From an HBO content perspective, and this is irrespective of today’s announcement, they are already increasing and looking to increase their original content by 50 percent this year,” WarnerMedia Senior VP of Corporate Communications Emile Lee told Ars.

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