Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Senator Stevens Spams for the Telcos

Stevens and his bill
Sen. Ted Stevens' desperation is beginning to show. With his telecommunications legislation in the DC doldrums, the good senator from Alaska has resorted to spamming his colleagues with phone company propaganda.

From his seat at the head of the Commerce Committee, Stevens is emailing around the results of a "bipartisan poll," which, according to the senator's spin, proves beyond a whisper of a doubt that Americans love his legislation and hate Net Neutrality.

One problem though. This supposedly objective poll is a complete sham.

It was paid for by Verizon Communications and carried out by Washington lobbying and consulting firms that boast major phone and cable companies as clients.

No matter for Senator Stevens, who has no qualms once again using the Commerce Committee seal to serve the interests of his friends at the phone companies.

The resulting poll is so stacked towards one side of the debate that no serious pollster, scholar or journalist would dare touch its findings. Here's a sample question lifted straight from the poll:
Which of the following two items do you think is the most important to you:

Delivering the benefits of new TV and video choice so consumers will see increased competition and lower prices for cable TV?


Enhancing Internet neutrality by barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services like faster speed and increased security for a fee?
As Matt Stoller wrote, "the rest of the questionnaire is similarly structured along the lines of 'do you want lots and lots of pie or would you like a kidney infection'."

What's particularly amazing is that 17 percent of the respondents chose the kidney infection.

But that's no deterrent to the many Astroturf groups that shamelessly front for the phone companies. They have trumpeted the phony survey as proof positive that Net Neutrality is a non-issue for Americans -- dismissing the more than a million Americans who have written Congress, called their representatives and turned out at dozens of pro-Net Neutrality events across the country.

In August alone, these grassroots actions convinced seven senators to announce their support for Net Neutrality -- carrying forth momentum against Stevens' deeply flawed legislation.

In the Astroturfers' version of reality, though, the future of the Internet is best left in the hands of the telco lobby -- conveniently, the same corporations that pay the Astroturfers' bills. Go figure.

The public doesn't really care about Internet freedom, they say -- and hey, they've bought a poll so they must be right. As Jeff Chester wrote in his commentary in The Nation:
[N]either the poll nor the press release issued by Stevens revealed, as the Wall Street Journal did today, that Verizon had paid for the study. The role of Verizon is not surprising, given that the poll was developed by the Glover Park Group lobbying shop (along with Public Opinion Strategies). Glover Park--which is run by such high-level Democratic Party advisers as Howard Wolfson, Joe Lockhart and Carter Eskew--has been helping Verizon in its efforts to scuttle broadband policy safeguards since 2005.
Cynthia Brumfield of IP Democracy heaps more scorn on Stevens:
All of this shameless propagation of corporate-sponsored lobbying dreck reflects nothing other than last-ditch desperation by Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), who is almost out of time to pass his telecom reform bill before this Congress is history. After intensive lobbying, Senator Stevens still doesn't have the 60 votes he needs to shut down a filibuster on the bill.
So whom should you trust on Net Neutrality?

We'll leave that decision to you. But be wary of phone company pollsters and spamming senators claiming they know what you want.

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