Community Organizations Say They Never Actually Joined Bogus Anti-Net Neutrality Astrotufing Group

from the because-of-course-they-didn't dept

All the way back in 2008, we wrote about an increasingly common practice among slimy DC lobbyists to "sign up" clueless organizations to be used as astroturfing figureheads. For example, it seemed odd that corn farmers were suddenly interested in internet ad rates. The original article, by Declan McCullagh, included the money quote from an anonymous person involved in those kinds of astroturfing schemes:
"You go down the Latino people, the deaf people, the farmers, and choose them.... You say, 'I can't use this one--I already used them last time...' We had their letterhead. We'd just write the letter. We'd fax it to them and tell them, 'You're in favor of this.'"
This seems to be standard practice for the big broadband companies. We highlighted how AT&T got "The Latino Coalition" to speak up in favor of their attempted (and eventually failed) merger with T-Mobile. Meanwhile, Comcast recently got the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to come out in favor of Comcast buying Time Warner Cable. And, of course, the dirty secret in all of this is that the way this works is the big companies toss a bunch of money at these organizations to get them to "support" whatever positions the companies want them to support. For example, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce received $320,000 from Comcast.

We recently wrote about the latest round of astroturfing groups that the broadband players were supporting, and who were out arguing in force against net neutrality. Lee Fang, at Vice, who wrote the original report that was based on now has a followup, talking about how many of the organizations listed as "members" of the astroturf group "Broadband for America" claim they have no idea what that is and did not choose to sign up.
Bob Calvert, the host of, a radio program listed as a Broadband for American member, told us that he is not familiar with the net neutrality debate. "My program is a non-political program supporting our men and women who serve and who have served our country and their families," said Calvert, in response to an inquiry from VICE.

Another Broadband for America member, the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, said it had joined only to support broadband access in rural and underserved areas, not on issues relating to net neutrality or the classification of broadband as a utility. "We will reexamine this endorsement and make a determination whether to continue supporting the coalition should we find that the current policies they are proposing would undermine the original goal of greater access for all Americans," said Dave Pearson, president of the group, which represents rural hospitals in Texas as the name suggests.
Some directly say they disagree with Broadband for America's position on net neutrality.

Don Hollister, the executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, said he was unaware of his organization being listed as a Broadband for America member. After our inquiry, Hollister wrote to us to share a message he sent to Broadband for America:

"The Ohio League of Conservation Voters does not endorse your position on broadband. This is not a policy area that we take positions on. Why are we listed as a Broadband for America member? I am unaware of Ohio LCV taking any position on broadband issues and I have been Executive Director since 2011. The Ohio LCV is not a member of Broadband for America. Remove us from your listing of members."

Other groups we contacted were simply confused. "I'm not aware of them and I pay all the bills. I've never heard of Broadband for America," replied Keith Jackson, an accountant with the Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn, a cozy bed and breakfast in Ohio that is listed as a Broadband for America member.

There's more in the original article. But it's pretty straightforward: many of the named members either had no idea or thought they were signing up for something very, very different. And yet now they are "supporting" policies they either don't know about or don't support. But this is how things are done in the cynical corners of Washington DC. You get support in any way necessary, no matter how ridiculous.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Jun 10th, 2014 @ 1:32pm

    The FCC can't manage this anymore. Isn't it about time for the FTC to get involved?

    Fraud, wire fraud, corruption charges for the lobbyists.
    Antitrust actions against the monopolists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 3:07pm

    They should have read their internet service provider's terms of service and end-user license agreement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    AnonCow, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 3:16pm

    Send me a check for $320K and you can claim that I support your Seal Pups Club for America (which actually supports Americans clubbing seal pups).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jun 10th, 2014 @ 3:16pm


    Isn't exactly this type of false endorsement advertising what publicity rights were created to prevent?

    And if companies are people, then they have publicity rights, and Broadband for America is violating them. Time for an IP suit that's actually constructive, maybe? ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 3:21pm

    and dont forget, they are also in the best place to be able to lie through their teeth to a multitude of people! taking lessons from how politicians work must be helping no end!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    observer, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 3:57pm

    Just wondering...

    ... would the people and organisations who are being misrepresented this way have a case for defamation?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 4:13pm

    Re: Just wondering...

    Only if they can prove damages, I think.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    W van Geldrop, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 10:08pm

    Typo in subject (Astrotufing)

    Yes, this matters because of indexing by Google etc

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 10:29pm

    Re: Re: Just wondering...

    They're supporting Verizon. I think that's damages enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 11:45pm

    A fucking bed-and-breakfast? They're getting desperate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    cubicleslave (profile), Jun 11th, 2014 @ 8:33am


    I'd rather send you a check for $300K to fund support for the "Ethical Re-Education of Washington Lobbyists".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 11th, 2014 @ 8:50am

    Re: Just wondering...

    I don't know about defamation (I don't think anyone is defamed by the misrepresentation), but it seems clear that there is a trademark violation here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 11th, 2014 @ 8:51am

    Re: Typo in subject (Astrotufing)

    It doesn't matter because of such indexing. Automated spell-checking is built into most search engines, so people searching for "astroturfing" will still get links to this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Zonker, Jun 11th, 2014 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Re:

    Wouldn't a group named such in America today actually stand for the "Unethical Recidivism of Washington Lobbyists" though?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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