Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The U.S. Congress: Where It Pays to Deceive

Why are more than 70 House Democrats helping AT&T lie to you?

They just signed on to an industry letter that was so riddled with misinformation about AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile it’s shocking that anyone would put their name on it.

All told these representatives raked in more than $1.8 million in campaign contributions from AT&T. That money likely helped convince them to look the other way as they signed a letter in support of AT&T's attempt to form a telecommunications colossus that rivals the Ma Bell monopoly of old.

These members of Congress should be working for us. But sadly, that’s not the way Washington works in the new era of corporate politics. After the Citizens United decision, the cost of running for Congress has spiraled upward giving cash-rich corporations even more power to dictate policy to money-hungry candidates.

This letter is no exception.

Fewer Jobs

In it the Democrats write that AT&T's takeover will "require billions of dollars in private investment capital and create thousands of jobs."

That’s untrue: AT&T has already told Wall Street that “synergies” from the merger will result in billions of dollars less investment and massive layoffs. Analysts estimate that between 20,000 and 25,000 T-Mobile employees will lose their jobs if regulators approve the deal.

I challenge any one of these signing Democrats to find a large merger in the long history of telecommunications that hasn’t led to extensive layoffs.

And AT&T has a frightening track record on firing. Over the past decade, as it grew massively through mergers, AT&T has shed more than 100,000 workers -- reducing its employee rolls in eight of the last nine years. AT&T laid off 12,000 workers in 2009; in 2010 its number of employees dropped by more than 15,000. And the company has let go nearly 6,000 employees in the first quarter of 2011.

Universal Access

In the letter the Democrats also state that AT&T’s takeover of T-Mobile would “be a significant benefit for the millions of Americans that may not otherwise see those benefits, including our constituents living in rural and underserved communities.”

This is also false: Earlier this month, AT&T told the FCC that, even without the merger, it will deploy next generation “4G” services to 97 percent of the population by the end of 2012. And AT&T’s rival Verizon has pledged to cover its entire footprint with 4G LTE service -- 98 percent of Americans -- by 2014.

So it’s fair to assume that competitive pressure will force AT&T to serve these areas with its own advanced network, regardless of the merger. If AT&T fails to offer wireless coverage to consumers, there is no doubt that it will cede significant market share to Verizon – something AT&T is loath to do.

The Facts

These members of Congress seem willing to overlook evidence that's obvious to anyone following the debate.

If this deal goes through, just two companies, AT&T and Verizon, would control nearly 80 percent of the mobile market in America. With too few choices, mobile phone users would face higher prices and poorer services. The lack of competitive pressure will stifle the sorts of innovation that the U.S. needs to stay ahead in a world where billions of people are using their mobile phones in increasingly inventive ways.

In any other industry, allowing this much concentration, especially without any meaningful regulatory oversight, would be unthinkable.

By comparison, the top 10 oil producing firms combined control less than 80 percent of the U.S. market, but this merger will give that level of market dominance to just two wireless companies.

AT&T knows that it can't win approval of this merger by telling the truth. That's why it has spent $200 million on lobbyists and campaign contributions over the years — to get people like these Democrats in the House to do whatever AT&T wants.

Our elected officials should be looking out for us, not just big corporations. Opposing this massive merger would be a good start.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Anonymous Declares Cyberwar Against ‘the System’

On Tuesday, someone claiming to speak for the underground group Anonymous released a video declaration of war against "the system."

The YouTube manifesto is a call to everyone in the online world to get off the couch, pick up their cell phones and laptops and join a revolt against governments and corporations that are intent upon stifling free speech online.

"It's time to hack the planet. It's time to turn the tables on the powers that be and show them that we have had enough," a narrator declares in a computer-generated voice used to mask his or her identity.

"This is our challenge," the narrator continues:
The revolution must take hold as a peaceful revolution. We must build our strength and unity through ideas, ingenuity and creativity. We must tear down the barriers that have existed to this day only because we allowed them to. The revolution must be televised. We must utilize the tools that we have and apply them with existing technology: computers, cell phones, internet and media.
Anonymous consists of a loose-knit collective of underground hackers and Internet freedom advocates that grew out of the 4Chan forum and other online networks of political activists.

The group seeks to unite hackers and culture jammers behind a singular purpose: to tear down digital-age barriers to free expression. With Tuesday's video manifesto, Anonymous has apparently widened its target to wage war against all entities that "are taking steps to make the Internet a less friendly and tolerable place for expression."

Given the elusive nature of the group, it's hard to determine whether this Anonymous manifesto came from the organization's leadership -- if they exist at all -- or simply bubbled up from within its loose structure.

It is, however, something that should not be taken lightly.

Anonymous has launched several successful "operations" to bring down the websites of governments, corporations and political groups it sees as oppressors. Earlier this week a NATO report warned member states of a serious Anonymous threat to their military security.

It has also followed up on WikiLeaks, hacking into the confidential files of these groups and releasing them to the public.

Earlier this year Anonymous released the emails of Aaron Barr, the executive of security firm HBGary, including a PowerPoint proposal to smear writer Glenn Greenwald, who is one of the most outspoken defenders of Wikileaks.

In March, Anonymous released emails it claimed to have obtained from Bank of America, allegedly exposing corruption and fraud related to mortgage foreclosures in the U.S.

The manifesto is pretty compelling stuff, written by someone familiar with the history of seminal political texts. And it's told to a danceable backbeat:
[the revolution] must begin immediately because as you are listening to this address world governments are taking steps to make the Internet a less friendly and tolerable place for expression. This is a direct attack on your rights.
As a response Anonymous calls upon "all those who possess the ability to alter cyber barriers" to hack the oppressors using peaceful means, including art, graffiti, fliers, music, lectures, assembly and protest. It also called upon those with technical know how to use their skills to become "digital warriors of the underground," presumably to help hack into systems of the groups they oppose.

"This is not anarchy this is resistance," the manifesto claims. "The time is now. The revolution has begun."