from the sock-puppetry dept
But the most obnoxious of these editorials have been those trying to claim that the FCC's set top box reform plan will hurt minority communities and diversity. We've long noted how one of the cable industry's favorite lobbying tricks is throwing money at minority groups so they'll parrot bad telecom policy, whether that's supporting the latest merger or opposing net neutrality. In short, many such groups are willing to support policies that actively harm their constituents -- for just the right amount of cash.
Enter Jesse Jackson, who this week penned an Op-ed over at USAToday that right out of the gate starts off on unsteady footing by mentioning the FCC's set top box reform plan in the same breath as "snarling dogs, water hoses and church bombings in the American South":
"National news coverage of the snarling dogs, water hoses and church bombings in the American South were the catalysts to exposing the ugly truths of racism and bigotry in the 1960s. Local news outlets gave new meaning to what the struggle looked like for people on its front lines. That is why a new proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate TV “set top boxes" has raised so much concern."Wait, what? Because history is filled with racism means the FCC's plan to open up the cable set top box market to competition raises concern? If you've actually bothered to read the FCC's proposal (pdf), all the rules would do would require cable companies to take their existing programming -- and make it available to third party hardware using the delivery methods and copy protection of the industry's choice. If anything the move would result in consumers getting access to more diverse programming options than ever before, given it would eliminate the traditional cable box walled garden, and replace it with hardware that nudges consumers in the direction of an ocean of streaming content.
Just like the cable industry (surely coincidental, right?), Jackson tries to claim that the FCC plan would let hardware vendors obtain cable programming "without any compensation":
"Essentially, the FCC is proposing that small and diverse television programmers such as Revolt and Vme TV hand over their television content to third party device manufacturers without any compensation. These companies could then pull networks apart, ignore copyright protections and dismantle the local and national advertising streams that have traditionally supported high quality, multicultural content."Again though, that's not true. Cable customers will still pay cable companies the same high rates for the exact same content lineups using the exact same copy protection, users will just be able to access it via a wider variety of hardware. That's much like how third party hardware (like TiVO) work now, except without the costly and cumbersome CableCARD installation. Jackson (or what ever cable lobbyist ghost writer rented his name for the afternoon) preaches on -- pretending he's engaged in a brave civil rights battle:
"Diversity on television and media still matters as much as it did in the 1960s. While new video platforms and content are being developed, the promise of this new medium will not be an immediate substitute for the current range of images and voices now available on TV. Furthermore, the market is already demonstrating its own agility to change with many new devices, streaming options and services bringing traditional television and Internet video onto our screens seamlessly.Fighting for diversity in programming and media ownership is one thing. Opposing a plan that would actually help diverse communities by making cable cheaper while delivering more diverse content than ever before is something else entirely. Jackson tries to support his shaky position by rattling off a laundry list of politicians and minority groups that oppose the FCC's plan:
"Leaders of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses have voiced opposition to this proposal; to date, over 80 House Democrats have expressed opposition or serious concerns. Major civil rights organizations, such as the National Urban League and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), have asked the FCC to pause this proceeding until more empirical data detailing the impacts on diversity is released."And while it's possible a few members of these groups actually believe (or are mislead to believe) the FCC's plan hurts diversity, all Jackson's laundry list of such groups does is highlight just how pervasive this kind of lobbyist dreck has become. Most consumers frankly have no idea that "astroturf" of this type even exists, and as a result many will be convinced that a plan that actually helps them will do them harm thanks to Jackson's missive. Comcast has found this kind of sock puppetry so effective, it now calls its top lobbyist David Cohen the company's "Chief Diversity Officer."
And while this really is nothing short of disinformation, it speaks volumes about the quality of the cable industry's argument -- and its fear of set real top box competition -- that it needs to resort to grotesque, misleading puppetry of this type.