FORTUNE -- The Wall Street Journal was getting a lot of echo-chamber play in the tech press Monday for its report that Apple (AAPL) is in talks with Comcast (CCV) about building an Apple TV-type Internet set-top box that would get special treatment on Comcast's rapidly growing cable network.
Has everybody forgotten what happened last month?
On Feb. 12, the same three-person Journal team reported that Apple was talking to Time Warner Cable (TWC) about putting their programs on Apple TV. The very next day, Comcast announced its $45.2 billion plan to gobble up Time Warner Cable, leading inevitably to speculation that Apple had just been hosed. (See Is Apple TV toast?)
So kudos to GigaOm's Janko Roettgers for suggesting that there might be something "fishy" about today's story.
As the Journal describes it, the service being discussed would give Apple a way to bypass the kind of Web congestion that drove Netflix (NFLX) subscribers crazy last month when too many of them tried to stream the latest episodes of House of Cards at the same time. Netflix's Reed Hastings reportedly paid Comcast a bandwidth "ransom" to get around the bottleneck and followed up with a call for stronger net neutrality rules. That's a reference to the principle that carriers with local monopolies (like the cable companies) should treat all data equally.
"But the real issue here is not net neutrality, or at least it's not the primary issue," writes Roettgers. "Comcast has been subject to strict conditions about how it deals with competitors ever since it merged with NBC, and chances are, those conditions will be extended and possibly even tightened when the merger with Time Warner Cable goes through.
"Shining a light on managed services just when the severity of these conditions is up for debate seems like a very strange coincidence indeed. It's almost as if someone said: Hey, here is this big operator that is soon going to own 30 percent of the country's pipes going into people's homes, and it wants to strike a special deal with Apple. Shouldn't regulators make sure that others get the same treatment?"
I have to agree. Somebody is getting played here by the Journal's unnamed "people familiar with the matter." Roettgers' thinks it may the Journal's readers. His conclusion:
"That's why I don't believe that we will see a service like the one painted by the Wall Street Journal anytime soon. Now, I'm sure the two companies have discussed this, just like they have probably discussed a whole range of other options. But that this one surfaces right now seems just a little too convenient."
Demand for streaming television and movies continues to rise. But the target of this disruption -- cable companies -- stands to benefit.
By Peter Suciu
FORTUNE -- Tens of thousands of viewers who tried to tune in for Sunday's season finale of the HBO (TWX) hit crime drama True Detective may have been left without a resolution to the complex plotline.
It wasn't because of a cable outage. It wasn't because of MOREMar 14, 2014 1:57 PM ET
Fortune breaks down the winners and losers in the biggest telecom deal of 2014. The findings may surprise you.
By John Patrick Pullen
FORTUNE -- The knee-jerk reaction to the unexpected news that Comcast (CMCSA), one of the world's largest telecommunications companies, plans to purchase its nearest competitor, Time Warner Cable (TWC), in exchange for $45 billion in stock is largely that the deal is great for the two (or one) MOREFeb 14, 2014 11:39 AM ET
This is Comcast's Xfinity TV on the X1 platform. Judge for yourself.
FORTUNE -- There are two theories about what happens to Apple (AAPL) if Comcast (CCV) is allowed to swallow-up Time Warner Cable (TWC) and become the world's largest provider of cable TV and home Internet service -- a deal Comcast's Brian Roberts cheerfully describes as "pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and strongly in the public interest."
Be that as it may, the news MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 14, 2014 6:51 AM ET
The cloud-TV startup has been an enemy of broadcasters. The recently announced merger will complicate things.
FORTUNE -- Comcast (CMCSA) faces an uphill battle in getting its $43 billion merger with Time Warner Cable (TWC) approved by antitrust regulators.
The issues are myriad, as plenty of commentators have pointed out. Speaking broadly, there's the issue of the "unprecedented gatekeeper power" that the combined company will have. TWC and Comcast will be the MOREErin Griffith - Feb 13, 2014 5:29 PM ET
In the wake of a court ruling striking down net neutrality rules, a merger might give regulators an opportunity to resurrect enforcement of the principle that keeps all Internet traffic equal.
FORTUNE -- There are so many potential problems with Comcast's (CMCSA) proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC) that getting the deal past antitrust regulators, were that to happen, would rank as a major accomplishment. But one of the biggest MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Feb 13, 2014 1:04 PM ET
It appears unlikely that Comcast would be able to acquire all of Time Warner Cable. If it makes a bid at all, it would more likely be for just part of the company, with Charter Communications getting the rest.
FORTUNE -- It's not often that an FCC commissioner weighs in on a possible merger in the communications industry. But Ajit Pai did just that in an interview with the Wall Street MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Dec 6, 2013 2:57 PM ET
A combination of the No.1 and No.2 cable providers would give one company control of three-fourths of the U.S. cable market. What would that mean for programmers and viewers?
FORTUNE -- Comcast (CMCSA) executives reportedly believe that if their company decides to make a bid for Time Warner Cable (TWC), it's unlikely the deal would face serious regulatory scrutiny since the two cable giants' geographical markets don't overlap much. In this, MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Nov 25, 2013 12:30 PM ET
Rather than improving its service or cutting prices, Comcast has spent big to unseat the mayor of Seattle, who is bringing a city-sponsored high-speed broadband network to his city.
FORTUNE -- When challenged, monopolists, particularly in the communications industry, often tend to work harder to protect their monopolies than they do to improve their services or cut prices (or simply limit price increases). An excellent example of this can be found MOREDan Mitchell, contributor - Nov 1, 2013 4:18 PM ET
Maybe the "D" in AllThingsD should stand for "Deal."
By JP Mangalindan and Dan Primack
FORTUNE -- The future of influential tech website All Things Digital is close to being decided.
Reuters reported in February that AllThingsD co-executive editors Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg had begun discussions with owner Dow Jones, a subsidiary of News Corp. (NWS), about either ending or extending their partnership, which is set to expire on December 31.
Since then, Fortune MOREAug 27, 2013 8:41 AM ET
|GM's $1.3 billion recall cost wipes out profit|
|Regulators pave way for Internet "fast lane" with net neutrality rules|
|Female gun instructors in hot demand|
|Apple shares soar on increased buyback|
|Premarkets:Buoyed by Apple, Facebook (but not GM)|