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.