from the ratfuckery dept
For years, we’ve noted how one of the greasier lobbying tactics in telecom is the co-opting of civil rights groups to provide cover for anti-competitive and anti-consumer policies.
Such groups are given cash for a shiny new event center in exchange for parroting any policy position that comes across their desks, even if it dramatically undermines their constituents. As a result, we’ve shown how time and time again you’ll see minority coalitions like the “Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership” supporting awful mergers or opposing consumer-centric policies like more cable box competition or net neutrality.
It’s a lobbying tactic that provides the illusion of broad, diverse support for telecom industry favored policies that almost always, upon closer inspection, are shit.
The telecom lobby has been using the tactic once again to try and scuttle the confirmation vote of Gigi Sohn to the FCC. The goal: keep the agency mired in 2-2 partisan gridlock, ensuring it can’t do anything popular with consumers, like restoring net neutrality, restoring media consolidation rules, or holding telecom monopolies accountable for much of anything.
Sohn’s a hugely popular reformer on both sides of the aisle. There’s not much to criticize. So instead, the telecom industry has taken to an old tactic long employed by Comcast and AT&T: astroturfing. They’ve worked with lobbyist strategists on both sides of the aisle to seed claims that Sohn hates cops, hates rural America… and would be terrible for the nation’s Hispanics.
Last Spring, the Arizona Daily Star, ran an op-ed by the League of United Latin American Citizens Council (LULAC) smearing Sohn. The group, which has financing ties with AT&T and Comcast, claimed that Sohn has “deeply problematic track record on media diversity issues,” which, if you actually know Sohn and her record, isn’t true. The article provided no coherent evidence to support its claims.
This week, a “nonpartisan” DC policy group named ALLVanza issued a press release urging the Biden administration to choose a new nominee for the FCC. The missive is framed in such a way as to suggest that the concern is that Sohn should be replaced with a more suitable Hispanic candidate:
Today, ALLvanza appealed to the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to acknowledge that the nomination of Gigi Sohn for commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has permanently stalled and to nominate a Hispanic candidate who can quickly secure the 50 Senate votes needed for confirmation.
The problem: the author of the press release, Rosa Mendoza, works for a K Street policy and lobbying firm named Global Strategy Group. Global Strategy Group has, you guessed it, Comcast as a client. Surely that’s just a funny coincidence, though.
Comcast wants to delay an FCC voting majority under Biden for as long as possible, lest they engage in any real consumer protection reform. If there has to be a third FCC Commissioner, Comcast wants it to be a feckless centrist that won’t rock the boat. They’re utterly terrified of an actual reformer like Sohn that opposes consolidation, monopolization, and consumer price gouging.
Using civil rights groups as a policy marionette has been a favorite Comcast tactic for years. Comcast enjoys relative immunity for it because they’re smart enough to never put clear quid pro quos into writing, so when accused they can indignantly pretend any such allegation is an outrage. Generally, the press doesn’t want to risk blowback from criticizing civil rights groups, so it never gets much attention.
If the press does cover claims made by these co-opted civil rights groups, they’re usually covered much like this piece at Bloomberg; just as good faith alliances for the betterment of humanity:
AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc., and Comcast Corp. are members of the LULAC Corporate Alliance, an advisory board that says it seeks to foster stronger partnerships between corporations and the Hispanic community.
But I’ve covered telecom for 22 years and have seen these groups routinely used as marionettes to push policies that actively hurt their constituents. Again, if you’re a widely despised telecom monopoly you can’t come out and say you oppose a popular reformer and want American telecom regulators mired in a gridlocked quagmire for all eternity, because people will correctly laugh at you.
So you have to get… creative. And that creativity usually includes using just an army of proxy groups to distract the press, public, and policymakers from your actual agenda: protecting monopoly revenues, crushing all competition, and gutting most state and federal consumer protection oversight.