The Circuit: Senate hearing on cramming, merger puts White House in tough spot; changes for Netflix

LEADING THE DAY: The Senate Commerce Committee will address the issue of cramming, or the unauthorized charges on telephone bills, in a Wednesday hearing.

The hearing will showcase the results of a yearlong Commerce committee investigation into cramming on landline telephone bills, which found that it is a billion-dollar industry and that consumer complaints about unauthorized third-party charges often fall on deaf ears.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission proposed rules to reduce the practice, and also raised the question of whether or not Voice-over-Internet-Protocol services should be subject to the same rules as landline services.

Merger puts Obama administration in tough spot: The proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile puts the administration in a tug-of-war between consumer advocates who oppose the deal and labor unions that support it, The Washington Post reported.

The Communications Workers of America support the deal, saying that it will create more jobs if the companies are allowed to merge and build out high-speed Internet connections into rural areas. But the proposed merger has drawn criticism from consumer advocate groups and anti-trust experts at a time when the Obama administration has been criticized for being soft on corporate mergers.

Netflix plans: Netflix is changing its pricing structure and separating streaming video plans from physical DVD rentals. Streaming video with a DVD plan used to be offered together for $9.99, but now each type of plan will cost $7.99 per month. The changes take effect immediately for new members, or on Sept. 1 for current subscribers, The Washington Post reported.

“Given the long life we think DVDs by mail will have, treating DVDs as a $2 add-on to our unlimited streaming plan neither makes great financial sense nor satisfies people who just want DVDs,” wrote Jessie Becker, Netflix’s vice president of marketing.

Senator wants U.S. News Corp. investigation: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V) has called for an investigation into News Corp. after some of the company’s journalists in the U.K. were accused of hacking into voicemails. Rockefeller called for an investigation into whether the company broke any U.S. law and whether any Americans had their privacy violated. At the FCC’s open meeting on Tuesday, chairman Julius Genachowski said that he doesn’t plan to get involved with any such investigation.

Data retention: In a hearing Tuesday, Electronic Privacy Information Center director Marc Rotenberg raised his concerns about a bill that would make it mandatory for ISPs to retain the IP addresses of customers for 18 months. The bill, titled the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act, would require the logs in an effort to limit online child pornography.

Rotenberg said that the bill was written too broadly and that the data collected could be used as evidence of crimes other than child pornography.

Several lawmakers raised concerns about the effect the bill would have on user privacy, its effectiveness in combating the problem and the burden it would place on ISPs.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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