Monday, June 13, 2005

Greedy Congressman Goes for the Gold

With More Than $500,000 in SBC Stock Options,
Pete Sessions Gets in Bed with the Telcos to Stifle
Efforts to Bring the Internet to More Americans

Tricky Pete
US Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) -- a 16-year Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SBC) executive and sponsor of a bill that would eliminate communities' ability to deliver low-cost, high-speed internet to their citizens – still owns more than half a million dollars worth of stock options in SBC. If passed, Session’s proposed legislation would provide a windfall for his former employer and other major cable and telephone companies, giving them veto power over locally supported efforts to provide internet at a cost more Americans can afford.

Sessions stands to gain as well. According to his "Financial Disclosure Statement for Calendar Year 2003," the former SBC executive owns $500,000 in SBC stock options and recieved more than $75,000 from SBC and it’s employees. It's no wonder he would sponsor legislation that is supported by nobody in this country except for the telecom and cable giants that punch his ticket.

SBC is the most active telecommunications company in the states by far. In just one two-year period—2003-2004—the former "Baby Bell" spent a minimum of $16.3 million to lobby state governments. And it spent another $10.1 million on contributions to state political parties and candidates' campaigns from 1999 to 2004.

By legislating to line his pockets, Sessions is rapidly joining the ranks of fellow Texas lawmaker Tom Delay as Capitol Hill's most corrupt.

The legislation in question, ironically called "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005" (HR 2726), would "prohibit municipal governments from offering telecommunications, information, or cable services." States, counties, cities, and towns looking to provide broadband services could not do so if they are anywhere within the same geographic area as a private company that has "substantially similar service. "

This isn’t about "preserving innovation" but about protecting Big Media's market fiefdoms. The major telephone and communications companies are scrambling to maintain their stranglehold over the future of communications in America.

Soon, nearly all information – TV, radio, telephone and the web will be delivered via high speed broadband. Locally supported internet projects provide access to broadband at $10 a month instead of the $30 to $50 rate levied by the communications companies. Community Internet connects rural communities, attracts new businesses, serves schools, libraries and public safety sectors. It will make access to the information superhighway affordable and accessible to everyone.

These telephone and cable companies will stop at nothing to stifle local efforts to bridge the digital divide. Why compete when you can pay off corrupt politicians to legislate away all other Internet options?

According to his 2003 filing, Sessions also holds considerable stock in other communications companies – including Verizon, AT&T, and Bell South -- that stand to gain considerably from limiting local efforts to provide cheap internet access to more Americans. The filing also lists his wife, Juanita, as collecting a salary from Southwestern Bell Internet Services, a subsidiary of SBC (See Schedule I). Sessions doesn't indicate how much Juanita makes from this arrangement.

Today's Dallas Morning News reports that Mr. Sessions' 2004 financial disclosure forms show that his wife's SBC stock options exceeded $1 million five years ago, when the stock was trading at $48 – roughly twice its current price.

It's not clear, however, from the Congressman's internal public relations and related press that his wife actually holds a nine-to-five job at SBC; in his election propaganda she's presented as a homemaker taking care of their two children. This begs the obvious question: "What does Juanita actually do to earn income from SBC?"

Backroom dealing between telcos and greedy elected officials has become the modus operandi of corporations seeking to protect their Internet fiefdoms from these municipal internet initiatives. They've devoted millions of dollars -- to pay off politicians, think tanks and provide misinformation to the media -- to paint Community Internet as an affront to American innovation and free enterprise.

Nothing could be further from the truth. These ISPs are loath to loosen their stranglehold on a market that, according to the Telecommunications Industry Association, could yield $212.5 billion in revenues by 2008. With so much at stake, they have opted to smother innovative local efforts to provide high-speed internet to more Americans. Legislators like Sessions have their hands out, ready to to introduce anti-access legislation, such as HR 2726, dictated to them word for word by their corporate masters.

Free Press has called on Sessions retract HR 2776 and come clean about a conflict of interest that impugns his integrity as a public servant.

On Friday, June 10, We also launched a petition asking members of Congress to not stand in the way of local governments serving the needs of local citizens. The petition is available at:

http://www.freepress.net/action/sessionsbill

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Appalling.

Speaking of options - off topic I know, yet somehow related - still hanging in the air are the news reports of put options having been excercised, in the weeks leading up to 9/11, against the airlines who's planes were targeted. It's no secret that the SEC maintains records of >all< trades, including who the recipient is. Yet, in all these years, we have yet to be told who. <sarcasm>I wonder why?</sarcasm>

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