ALEC Threatens To Sue Critics That Point Out It Helps Keep Broadband Uncompetitive

from the sloppy-denial dept

As you might have read, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been losing some major clients lately, including Google, T-Mobile and Microsoft. Those companies have been quietly distancing themselves from ALEC, after critics have illustrated its ties to legislative assaults on climate change science and meaningful pollution standards. Before Google announced it was leaving the group last fall, chairman Eric Schmidt went so far as to accuse the legislative grist mill of "literally lying" about its role in climate change denial. In a response letter to Google, ALEC proclaimed Google's departure was "based on misinformation from climate activists who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial."

With T-Mobile, AOL, and Facebook quietly following in Google's footsteps (but not publicizing the reason for their departures), ALEC has apparently decided that its best course of action is to threaten lawsuits against those claiming ALEC denies climate change. ALEC has sent cease and desist letters (pdf) to a number of critics like Common Cause, the letters directing groups to the ALEC website where the organization insists it's not a opposed to climate change -- it's simply a "market environmentalist" dedicated to the "betterment of human health and well-being."

Apparently climate change isn't the only sensitive topic for ALEC as the outfit tries to stem the flow of client departures. The group has also been sending cease and desist letters to companies like wirelesss MVNO Credo Mobile, which in recent months has been sending its subscribers missives hammering ALEC for its role in fighting community broadband. The small company markets itself as having an activist, pro-consumer edge, and has scored exceptionally well on the EFF's privacy report card.

Credo's been busy pointing out to its subscribers how ALEC's model legislation, clearly visible on ALEC's website, has been used as the framework for roughly twenty state-level protectionist broadband bills nationwide. As we've frequently discussed, these bills are the worst sort of protectionist dreck, shoveled into the legislative bloodstream by the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink to protect its duopoly power from communities desperate for something better. Credo frames ALEC's participation in these efforts this way in a recent notice to subscribers:
"The American Legislative Exchange Council—a shadowy corporate front group that works to enact discriminatory voter ID laws, weaken gun safety laws and eliminate environmental regulations—is now pressuring state legislatures around the country to ban cities from offering broadband Internet access. ALEC is pushing its anti-municipal broadband agenda through model legislation it has developed, which one municipal broadband advocate described as “the kind of language one would expect to see if the goal is to protect politically powerful cable and telephone company monopolies.” Many perennial funders and members of ALEC, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner [Cable], stand to gain financially from these state laws because they eliminate the possibility of competition from city-run broadband services."
In its cease and desist letter to Credo, ALEC first proclaims it's a respected think tank, not a lobbying apparatus. It also insists it doesn't "block" municipal broadband, the group simply advocates encumbering towns and cities with "certain steps," should they be interested in building their own broadband:
"We demand that you cease making inaccurate statements regarding ALEC, and immediately remove all false or misleading material from the Working Assets and Credo Action or related websites and action pages within five business days," the letter, dated March 5, reads. "Should you not do so, and/or continue to publish any defamatory statements, we will consider any and all necessary legal action to protect ALEC."

ALEC contends that it does not oppose city broadband but only advocates that certain "steps" be required before a municipality can provide telecom services. Additionally, ALEC takes issue with Credo labeling it as an organization that lobbies state legislatures at all, arguing that it is merely a "think-tank for state-based public policy issues and potential solutions."
How exactly can you claim you don't oppose municipal broadband when you've played a starring role in opposing municipal broadband? Because many of the bills ALEC helps pass don't technically "block" municipal broadband. They are however usually saddled with language by ISP lawyers that effectively does the same thing. For example most of the bills prohibit communities from getting into the broadband business if their market is "served" by an existing provider. They then go on to define "served" to include satellite and cellular connections, while using extremely generous versions of zip code coverage analysis. Similarly ALEC doesn't lobby to pass these bills directly, their incumbent ISPs client do that.

Regardless, Credo Mobile doesn't appear to be too worried about ALEC's threat, sending the organization a response letter (pdf) illustrating that not only does ALEC's own website document its opposition to municipal broadband, but so have numerous news outlets:
"Not only does ALEC attempt to influence legislative outcomes, it clearly succeeds in doing so. As recounted in a 2011 Bloomberg News article, ALEC's model legislation on municipal broadband was the principal reason why cable companies were able to block Lafayette, Louisiana from offering high speed Internet access to its citizens (editor's note: Lafayette was ultimately able to offer gigabit connections via LUS Fiber, but only after a protracted legal fight against regional incumbents Cox and BellSouth (now AT&T)).

"Under these circumstances, the language used in the statements you challenge -- "working to make sure it never happens" and "pressuring state legislatures" -- is well within the bounds of political discourse in making the point that ALEC's model legislation and positions have the intent and effect of encouraging enactment of state legislation effectively banning cities from offering broadband Internet access."
It's not entirely clear what ALEC hopes to accomplish here, as its role in both climate change and municipal broadband is pretty clearly established by documentable history, news reports, and the legislative process itself. It's kind of like the town drunk, after months of being videotaped punching clowns in the face, becoming foul-mouthed and indignant at the mere mention of the odd number of clown black eyes around town. In fact the behavior is only bringing additional critical attention to ALEC's longstanding role as an organization that's useful to corporations looking to quietly shovel bad legislation through financially compromised state legislatures with the bare minimum of fuss or actual public debate.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 12:10pm

    this should be interesting

    I've got the popcorn, who can bring the sodas?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 1:01pm

      Re: this should be interesting

      I really hope to see this go to trial. I know it will be a big waste of time and money, also it will distract people from other more important things. But dang I want to see a lobbyist go down in flames and exposed for the corrupt crap they do.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2015 @ 8:40am

        Re: Re: this should be interesting

        "a big waste of time and money"

        Not for the lawyers. They're like brokers, the lawyers on both sides get paid either way.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 12:26pm

    The Language Game

    Hey look, it's the language game again.

    We didn't 'murder' that guy, we just 'took steps' to 'escalate' his 'expiration expectancy'.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 12:33pm

    A different climate change...

    It looks like the (figurative) climate is changing for these guys, and they're still in denial...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 10:58pm

      Re: A different climate change...

      It seems climate is not the only change they are in denial about.

      What they are trying to do seems to be a campaign to keep legislators from boycotting them, by claiming they are misrepresented. Quite a short term move and if they go through trial, quite a positive presedence they will make.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 12:34pm

    Business as Usual

    If the company was doing this same thing in the opposition direction people would be calling them saints.

    We should not want this crap to happen regardless of which side of isle benefits.

    I wonder how much of this is an affect of John Oliver's show?
    I wish more news types would tell the news this way.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIMgfBZrrZ8

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

    • icon
      cypherspace (profile), 16 Apr 2015 @ 7:57pm

      Re: Business as Usual

      This is a 'have to criticize both sides' false equivalence. I might take this argument seriously IF you can show behavior from pro-net neutrality groups that 1) comes anywhere close to bad-faith behavior and 2) is as widespread/systemic as it is in the anti-net neutrality side.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 17 Apr 2015 @ 7:44am

      Re: Business as Usual

      "If the company was doing this same thing in the opposition direction people would be calling them saints"

      I wouldn't.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 12:46pm

    the organization insists it's not a opposed to climate change


    Of course they're not opposed to climate change - that's why they're trying to block attempts to limit it!

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

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 16 Apr 2015 @ 12:56pm

    Good for Credo

    Now, if only Credo had an unlimited data plan, I would probably switch to them in a heartbeat... :-( Unfortunately, I will have to keep my grandfathered AT&T unlimited data plan for now.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 1:00pm

    how dare you tell the truth! See you in court!

    Shitlords.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 16 Apr 2015 @ 2:43pm

    Minor typo

    wirelesss should only have 2 letter 's'.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2015 @ 11:32pm

    Not so smart, ALEC.

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

  • identicon
    quisp65, 17 Apr 2015 @ 7:04am

    Suing for slander has been around a long time...

    Even this article's title lies. What's with all the left wing misinformation these days. It seems to be getting a little more heavy than right wing misinformation you see these days. It's getting harder to run across intelligent discussion that doesn't put every issue in black and white good vs evil story lines.

    Net Neutrality issues and climate change are two subjects that nearly every time brings out good vs evil stories rather than intelligent discussion of analyzing all the grey areas.

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

  • identicon
    Steven, 20 Apr 2015 @ 7:06am

    Nothing like threatening with court action to prove once again how much conservatives cherish liberty and believe in keeping the government out of things.

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

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 5:29pm

    Today the USA - Tomorrow, the World.

    Ah! ALEC... the future of American Politics.

    Aint progress a bitch. :)

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

  • icon
    Lakewolf (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 3:55pm

    ALEC: Destroyer of the Republic of the USA/ Creator of the National Socialist State of America

    I'm so sick of seeing fascists get away with criminal behavior like this.

    At least Hitler truly loved Germany...oh, and "Nazi Germany" wasn't National Socialism, it was a dictatorship.

    Nazism is what SCOTUS created in its "Citizens United" ruling...and what the TTP, if passed, will change the economies of the signatories into.

    "Nazism is corporatism...corporatism is Nazism"---Mussolini

    OOPS! I'll be put in jail for "violating intellectual copyright":...because I'm sure that some psychopath somewhere has copyrighted that (historical) statement!

    Wish there was a planet with intelligent, kind humanoids that I could move to. Einstein was never more right when he said, "There are two things that are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity...and I'm not completely certain about the Universe."

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


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