Friday, April 06, 2007

Groups Co-Opted To Spread Telco Propaganda

And you thought telco Astroturfing had gotten bad enough.

Bruce Kushnick of Teletruth exposes the dirty ways that AT&T and Verizon manipulate public opinion by "co-opting" not-for-profit groups and aligning their leaders against Net Neutrality -- even when it’s not in the best interests of their constituents.

Over the last few weeks groups representing minorities, disabled and low-income constituents have been hyping AT&T and Verizon efforts to stop any Net Neutrality legislation, Kushnick writes.

These groups appear to be saying that blacks, Hispanics, seniors, poor, deaf or disabled persons universally oppose the principle that maintains the Internet’s level playing field -- and that they want to help “these ‘poor’ misunderstood companies” deliver better services.

But there’s more to it than that.

Follow the Money

"What do these groups have in common?" asks Kushnick. "They all receive funding from AT&T and/or Verizon, and then lobby for them."

This is nothing new. Over the past decade, the phone companies have left a trail of broken promises to deliver faster broadband to disadvantaged populations in exchange for government giveaways and favorable P.R. from their community leaders.

Taken alone, this is outrageous. But it's only one shady tactic in the phone companies' multi-million dollar campaign to destroy the principle that prevents them from manipulating (they like to say "shaping") content on the Internet and taking away users' ability to choose for themselves.

Coin-Operated Analysis

According to Ed Mierzwinski of member US Pirg, creating such propaganda has long been the business model of one of the Bells' favorite PR firms -- Issue Dynamics.

Blogging about Issue Dynamics in 2005, Mierzwinski reported that the company helped create a "think tank" known as the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) with the sole intention of dressing up Bell-friendly opinions and hoisting them before the public as objective economic analysis.

NMRC is just one in a long line of coin-operated think tanks -- a list that includes the Phoenix Center, Heartland Institute, Progress and Freedom Foundation and the Cato Institute among others -- that routinely trade industry-friendly analysis for corporate dollars.

Selling Out The Public

And this brand of sock puppetry is just one voice in the Telco choir -- a congregation including "consumery" sounding groups and pro-competition sounding payola pundits, among other PR firms and lobbyists. They have all been convened to create "a very loud 'sound wall' of consumer support that actually doesn't exist," according to Karl of Broadband Reports.

It's a collection of shills and sellouts, which in 2006 cost the phone companies more than $175 million to assemble. It's money spent at the expense of those who most need access to a fast and neutral Internet.

About these groups Kushnick concludes: "while they themselves benefit from the phone companies’ funding, [they] certainly harm their own constituents."

Net Neutrality should be debated openly, based upon the merits of the issue. But with so many players secreting away telco money to spread propaganda, it’s hard to separate those on the take from those who really want a better Internet for us all.

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