Net Neutrality Astroturfing Stirs Up Conflict Between Latino/Minority Groups

from the look-at-that dept

We've written a few times about the highly cynical astroturfing practice in Washington DC, in which certain lobbyist groups basically have "deals" with certain public interest groups. The basic deal is that the lobbyists guarantee big cash donations from their big company clients, and then the lobbyists get to write letters "on behalf of" those organizations for whatever policy they want enacted (or blocked). We quoted a story from Declan McCullagh in 2008 which included this classic line from a lobbyist who worked in one of these shops:
"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.'"
That first option, "the Latino people" turned out to be rather prescient. During the last net neutrality fight, in 2009, it was revealed that a bunch of Latino groups magically supported the telco position -- leaving out the bit about how they were funded by the telcos. Here's Matthew Lasar, back in 2009, revealing some details:

Take the go-slow on net neutrality commentary filed in late September by the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) and 19 other civil rights groups. Their statement warns that net neutrality policies could inhibit investment and "leave disenfranchised communities further behind." The coalition describes themselves as having a common purpose, serving communities "that are among the most severely impacted by a lack of access to technology." And indeed the list includes signers from venerable organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

But the groups signing the letter have something else in common: financial support from AT&T (and sometimes Verizon and Comcast). These advocates don't hide this. For example, the website of one of the signers, the Japanese American Citizens League, says "Website made possible by the generous sponsorship of AT&T." 100 Black Men lists AT&T as a "partner" and "sponsor" of the group. AT&T Foundation's 2007 tax returns show that 100 Black Men received $100,000 that year and $75,000 in 2006.

Similarly, the NAACP, which also signed the statement, lists AT&T and Verizon on its Centennial Event sponsors page. LULAC's website indicates that it received a $1.5 million Technology Access Grant from AT&T. Comcast Foundation's records indicate that it gave the LULAC Institute $60,000 in 2007. And in 2006 the AT&T Foundation gave LULAC numerous grants to support computer education centers across the United States.

And some of these groups have even more direct ties to the telcos. The Asian American Justice Center's Advisory Council includes Anne H. Chow, listed as "AT&T Chair" on the group's website. In 2006, AT&T identified her as a senior vice president for the company. Her AAJC bio says that Chow "played a key role in the AT&T/SBC merger with overall responsibility for the Sales and Marketing integration planning effort."

And then, jump forward to 2011, when AT&T was trying to buy T-Mobile. The merger received some unexpected support:
The Hispanic Institute and the Latino Coaltion have decided that supporting the merger of AT&T with T-Mobile is of utmost importance to them.
A further report noted:
One DC insider informs us that rumblings on K Street suggest AT&T had called every civil rights group in the United States for support within fifteen minutes of the deal being announced. Fearful of losing AT&T donations -- most of these groups quickly got to parroting prepared AT&T statements, unconcerned about the actual impact of a T-Mobile deal. Getting funding for a new events center apparently dulls any ethical pangs felt using your organization as a hired stage prop.
Then, last year, the Center for Public Integrity decided to explore the nature of these various "civil rights groups" and their ties to the big broadband players, and found the situation to be quite suspect, especially with regards to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), which helps coordinate many of these filings for the FCC:
From 2009 through 2011 MMTC received at least $725,000 in contributions and sponsorships from network neutrality foes including Verizon, Time Warner, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, according to MMTC tax filings and sponsorship lists.

MMTC’s relationship with Verizon demonstrates the group’s various methods of obtaining industry revenue. In 2009, at the height of the net neutrality debate, Verizon made a direct $40,000 contribution to MMTC. From 2010 to 2013, MMTC documents list Verizon as funding at least $160,000 in MMTC conference sponsorships.

Additionally, MMTC worked with Verizon on a $189 million sale of wireless spectrum licenses to minority-owned Grain Management this year — a deal announced in conjunction with a larger $1.9 billion license sale to AT&T. A spokesman for Verizon says money paid to MMTC wasn’t intended to influence its policies but to support its mission of promoting inclusion in the industry.
So it should come as little to no surprise that a bunch of these same groups, once again, filed a pro-telco comment with the FCC, arguing that reclassifying broadband under Title II would somehow be harmful to minorities. Note that the filing was coordinated by HTTP and MMTC -- both groups discussed above as taking money from the big broadband guys. The argument they're presenting makes absolutely no sense, but no one cares how sensible the argument is.
HTTP partnered with the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) and 35 other national minority organizations to file comments in the FCC’s proceeding to protect and promote the open Internet. The group urged the Commission to focus its broadband policies on promoting adoption, engagement, and informed broadband use by minorities, and to exercise its Section 706 authority to protect all consumers’ rights to an open Internet. In the filing, the organizations opposed Title II reclassification of the Internet under the 1934 Telecommunications Act, arguing that it would stifle broadband adoption among vulnerable populations, and would limit investment and innovation that have benefitted its constituents. Six HTTP member organizations also joined independently in the filing: Dialogue on Diversity; LISTA; MANA: A National Latina Organization; the National Puerto Rican Coalition; SER Jobs for Progress; and The Latino Coalition.
The difference this time, however, is that other groups, representing Latinos, Hispanics and other minority groups who are not funded by the big broadband guys, are now paying attention. And they filed their own FCC comments supporting Title II reclassification:
On Friday, the Voices for Internet Freedom coalition filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on behalf of more than 50 civil rights, human rights, community-based and media organizations in support of strong Net Neutrality rules that protect the digital rights of communities of color.

In the filing, the groups called on the FCC to treat Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers, which would allow the Commission to reestablish its legal authority to adopt Net Neutrality rules that prevent telecommunications companies from blocking, discriminating against and interfering with Web traffic. The coalition also called on the agency to ensure Net Neutrality protections are applied equally to both wireline and wireless Internet access.

The group opposes the framework for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rules, which would allow ISPs to discriminate by creating fast and slow lanes online....

Voices for Internet Freedom is a coalition of nearly 30 organizations advocating for communities of color in the fight to protect Internet freedom from corporate and government discrimination. The coalition is led by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Center for Media Justice, Free Press and ColorOfChange.
And now the fight seems to be getting personal. Alex Nogales, the head of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, called out the Congressional Hispanic Leadership (which has come out in support of the broadband company's plan to kill net neutrality) by pointing out that they held a briefing that was sponsored by the telcos and totally one-sided. The event was so over-the-top biased that even some in the mainstream media highlighted how ridiculous it was.

Martin Chavez, from the telco-supported Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership, posted a blog post that purports to be a "can't we all just get along" type post, but which really personally slams Alex Nogales for what Chavez claims was an "angry outburst and lapse of judgment." Nogales isn't taking that sitting down and responded by pointing out that Chavez seems to conveniently leave out who pays his salary:
What is most interesting about Marty’s statement is what it doesn’t say. Notably, he did not address his employment with Ibarra Strategy Group, a lobbying firm whose clients include Verizon – the main opponent to strong and enforceable Open Internet rules. One would think that a person with such an egregious conflict of interest would, at least, disclose it in his public statements. Marty, unfortunately, does not.

Regrettably, what Marty did say in his statement is just as deceptive as what he conveniently left out. Of the many fabrications, Marty said that ‘most Latino organizations’ oppose the FCC using the sound legal authority found in Title II of the Communications Act to restrict blocking or discrimination online. This is patently false. A number of highly respected Latino organizations have sided with the community and come out in favor of strong Open Internet rules based on Title II authority, including: the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), Presente.org, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the National Institute for Latino Policy, News Taco, Latino Rebels, and more.
It certainly is disappointing to see groups like this fight, but it's worth noting that there certainly does seem to be a clear pattern, as noted years ago, that the groups with funding from the broadband guys magically support the broadband players' position, while the ones who are not funded that way actually seem to recognize the importance of not giving in to the broadband guys' plans to kill net neutrality.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Geno0wl (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 10:31am

    If Verizon and Comcast just spent the money on Upgrading infrastructure instead of lobbying they would actually have good infrastructure and wouldn't need to complain about the increasing costs and the need to spend tons of money to lobby to not have to spend even more money to not have to update their infrastructure!
    yeash

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 10:31am

    So HTTP favours a regulatory regime that would inhibit the growth of Web 2.0 applications? I knew HTTP wasn't well suited to Web 2.0, but I thought the Web 2.0 advocates had made peace with that.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 11:06am

    Public Philanthropy...

    Is nothing more than buying public opinion. And in this case using the Philanthropic Teet to goose their 'young' into doing what mommy and daddy says.

     

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  4.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    Don't forget the "Association of Truck Drivers and Farmers In Unspeakable Small Towns". They conduct auctions over the Internet!

     

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  5.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Jul 25th, 2014 @ 1:06pm

    A couple of them should lose their tax exempt status. That would give the others something to think about.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 2:23pm

    arguing that it would stifle broadband adoption among vulnerable populations


    The telecoms only care about white people, the dead ones on our currency that is. They really like lots and lots of those people.

     

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  7.  
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    Justin Velez-Hagan, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 4:03pm

    Not all orgs against "title II reclass" or net neutrality are funded by telcomms

    If you look past some of the organizations who are supported by telcomm firms, which, coincidentally of course, makes your case, you'd find that there your argument falls apart.

    I know because I run one of the orgs that signed onto the filing by MMTC. I think the following, which I posted in another article that expressed the same misinformation, sums it up well:

    "The National Puerto Rican Chamber was established to support and defend opportunities for entrepreneurship and economic development for Puerto Ricans and Hispanics, and, occasionally we join the fight with other orgs to influence Washington DC policy. As an organization, we have been tempted to take funds, under the premise that we reciprocate by supporting a policy of import to our new "corporate partner," however, to date, we have yet to do so. In fact, we have never accepted any money from a telecom or other org that could be purported to be against "net neutrality," or reclassification by the FCC under the Title II Act.

    That being said, I hope that people will realize that ... not all of the organizations that agreed to support and sign onto the MMTC filing against Title II reclassification [have been hired guns]. Yes, whenever we consider supporting a policy we have to ensure that our support falls in line with our mission and, in general, it has to be approved by our boards who have little personal gain to be had from any potential sponsor.

    For my organization, it didn't take much research to realize how detrimental the vast increases in regulations and oversight could be to budding entrepreneurs and economic development in Puerto Rico or throughout the mainland. As an economic policy analyst, it's intuitive to me. The more difficult it is to comply with the law, the more costly it is do business, the less attractive it is to invest and make a profit. For this reason, if internet service providers are required to comply with a highly-regulatory archaic law, they will be less likely to invest in expanding and improving service, or less able to as costs rise, will be more likely to cut costs elsewhere (employment), and that reduced service will affect the millions of entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of growing opportunities on the internet.

    Now if you consider that those who disproportionately benefit from expanded investment in telecom and the internet are "communities of color" like Puerto Ricans, one can easily see how it becomes a natural alignment for so many of our orgs. From speaking with the heads of so many of these orgs, who are good people who so often give up so much to dedicate their lives to the cause of their organization, it would take one giant leap to make the claim that they would suddenly "sell out" for a dollar. Maybe I'm naive and too trustful to assume that so many of these great leaders truly believe in what they say they do, but after getting to know so many of them, I can't help but think so highly of and admire so many of them.

    It may be hard for you to consider that people have legitimate reasons for opposing something you believe in, but if you take a minute to consider the reasoning, and perhaps some of the evidence, it might not be as difficult for you and so many others to realize how important to our country's economy it is to not disrupt one of the few industries that is allows for so many opportunities."

    Thanks

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2014 @ 4:32pm

    Re: Not all orgs against "title II reclass" or net neutrality are funded by telcomms

    Thank you for the informative comment.

    It is definitely useful to know that there are outliers on both sides (I'm sure there are people who are against Title II who aren't influenced by their donations too).

    I do notice you state "The more difficult it is to comply with the law, the more costly it is do business, the less attractive it is to invest and make a profit. For this reason, if internet service providers are required to comply with a highly-regulatory archaic law, they will be less likely to invest in expanding and improving service, or less able to as costs rise, will be more likely to cut costs elsewhere (employment), and that reduced service will affect the millions of entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of growing opportunities on the internet."

    The logic here is sound, but Title II would actually simplify current law; not only that, but many industry players such as Verizon currently have equivalent rules on the books due to prior merger conditions. These rules are set to expire within the next decade.

    So you have the option of complying with one set of laws for all network providers under Net Neutrality, or you end up with the current balkanization of rules and agreements that is a true minefield to wade through. Along with that, you have various network providers' agreements expiring at different times, meaning that they will have incentive to implement 'slow lanes' to gain advantage over the legally-bound competition.

    And then you get to what the 'slow lanes' are: For one thing, if the past 30 years of the Internet are anything to go by, 'slow lanes' will be what is provided outside urban areas of the central US. Companies desiring larger peering interconnects and faster access to consumer endpoints will focus their payments on cities where it will be the most profitable for them.

    So who suffers? Rural areas, low-income areas, and areas outside of the central US, such as Puerto Rico. They will continue to have a limited set of competitive providers who can shift popular 'fast lane' data from source to destination. This does not aid budding entrepreneurs and economic development, but hinders them.

    I don't think most of the people on this site have difficulty considering that people have reasons for opposing Net Neutrality; the problem is that most people have not been provided with the full picture, and so sometimes take positions that actually oppose their own desired outcomes.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2014 @ 7:06am

    Re: Public Philanthropy...

    The problem is that a small minority can't buy everyone. They just buy a few minority groups so that they can leverage their disproportionate media power to claim that minority groups support their cause. and as an added bonus bought and paid for politicians now have someone to point to to justify their support of this small minority.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2014 @ 7:07am

    Mike, you must be against minorities. Those subverting the democratic process for their personal gain by buying politicians and minority groups are a very small minority and you continuously oppose them.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2014 @ 7:30am

    Re: Re: Not all orgs against "title II reclass" or net neutrality are funded by telcomms

    Lets also not forget that net neutrality principles and the attempts to have governments enforce them are an attempt to correct the existence of anti-competitive laws. So statements like

    "The more difficult it is to comply with the law, the more costly it is do business, the less attractive it is to invest and make a profit. For this reason, if internet service providers are required to comply with a highly-regulatory archaic law, they will be less likely to invest in expanding and improving service, or less able to as costs rise, will be more likely to cut costs elsewhere (employment), and that reduced service will affect the millions of entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of growing opportunities on the internet."

    seem to ignore the fact that it is archaic and anti-competitive laws passed by bought and paid for politicians that deter (new) internet service providers from entering the market and investing and expanding their business and providing customers with a competitive product. Net neutrality principles are just an attempt to mitigate the damages cause by the existing archaic anti-competitive laws.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2014 @ 7:40am

    Re: Not all orgs against "title II reclass" or net neutrality are funded by telcomms

    "Yes, whenever we consider supporting a policy we have to ensure that our support falls in line with our mission and, in general, it has to be approved by our boards who have little personal gain to be had from any potential sponsor."

    Oh, you mean like how politicians allegedly follow strict anti-revolving door laws to ensure that they have little to gain when passing laws?

    "From speaking with the heads of so many of these orgs, who are good people who so often give up so much to dedicate their lives to the cause of their organization, it would take one giant leap to make the claim that they would suddenly "sell out" for a dollar."

    Politicians, like Obama, speak so nicely when running for office and they tell everyone exactly what the people want to hear. They insist that if elected they will provide more transparency and more oversight. Once elected they do the exact opposite of what they claimed (back door dealings, secretive meetings with industry interests, etc...). But they talk so nicely and politely and are such 'good people' that how can we not trust them?

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    ― C.S. Lewis

    "Maybe I'm naive and too trustful to assume that so many of these great leaders truly believe in what they say they do, but after getting to know so many of them, I can't help but think so highly of and admire so many of them."

    I'm not so naive as to believe that because you are calling someone a 'great leader' and using catchy phrases that makes it anymore so just because they're so nice to you. I'm not sure I even trust the sincerity of your post. Call me cynical.

     

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  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 26th, 2014 @ 12:39pm

    Re:

    Is this sarcasm? It's so hard to tell! Regardless, being opposed to corporations using minority groups to astroturf isn't even close to being the same as opposed to minority groups.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2014 @ 9:14pm

    Re: Re:

    Those subverting the democratic process for personal gain by buying politicians are a very small minority that Mike keeps opposing. That makes him anti-minority.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2014 @ 8:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Not all orgs against "title II reclass" or net neutrality are funded by telcomms

    It's amazing how monopolists want antiquated regulations when they favor them by prohibiting competitors from entering the market. As soon as someone proposes pro-consumer regulations to mitigate the effects of these anti-competitive laws all of a sudden the monopolists scream that such archaic regulation is too bureaucratic and burdensome. What hypocrites.

     

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


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