This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Free PCs and Fine Print
Jun 30 2000 12:00 AM PDT

Offers for discount PCs often come with strings attached, and the companies making the offers aren't always eager to spell out all the costs and conditions. This is news? Sundry outlets dutifully covered the FTC's recent finger-wagging at Value America (VUSQE), and Office Depot (ODP), but only the Washington Post worked up even a modicum of dudgeon.

The government didn't require the companies to admit they had done anything wrong. So what if their advertising buried or omitted details such as the requirement to sign up for a three-year, $1,000-plus ISP contract to qualify for a $400 rebate? Many outlets gave company spokesmen plenty of column-inches to explain how, though there was absolutely nothing wrong with their advertising previously, they were now following the FTC's suggestions to make it even better.

The Washington Post's Caroline E. Mayer interviewed one of the consumers whose complaints got the FTC moving on the issue. The tale of his treatment by Value America's phone reps rings truer than all the companies' bland protestations of their pure intentions. (The Boston Globe and the Seattle Times, which ran abbreviated versions of the Post's coverage, omitted this consumer's point of view.)

The Post's Mayer quoted an FTC spokesman that the goal of the agency's action was to get "immediate relief to put an end to these practices and send a signal to the rest of the industry." She didn't mention, as the Wall Street Journal did, that one year has elapsed since the FTC first started paying attention to the problem. It may qualify as "immediate relief" on government time. But on Internet time? - Keith Dawson

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