Time Warner Cable began lobbying Maine legislators at the dawn of the legislative session, reports the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. In January, the cable gargantuan hosted a "Winter Policy Conference" for state lawmakers at the exclusive Inn by the Sea resort. As Maine state leaders contemplate how they can boost connectivity, the incumbents are fueling up the anti-muni misinformation machine.
The Center did not have exact numbers of legislators who chose to accept the invitation to stay overnight, attend the opening dinner, or sit in on the "information sessions" which were all paid for by TWC. Reports range from "about a dozen" attendees at the evening dinner to "30 or 35" attending the information sessions the next day.
Naturally, the event raised red flags:
“If we want good public policy, there’s reason for all of us to be worried,” said utilities expert Gordon Weil, the state’s first Public Advocate, who represented the interests of ratepayers before regulators. Such treatment of legislators is “obviously intended to persuade them by more than the validity of the arguments; it’s intended to persuade by the reception they’re given.”
The Center obtained copies of the information packet from the conference, which included a survey that had legislators questioning its objectivity:
“We see lots of surveys as policymakers and we have to be smart enough to look at what questions are asked,” said [DFL Rep. Sarah] Gideon.
Gideon was bothered by survey questions such as, “Should taxpayer-supported debt be used to build government-owned and operated broadband networks that sell broadband services to the public…where no broadband service currently exists…(or) broadband services are already available?”
“Nobody’s going to say ‘Yes, I want my state to incur debt,’” said Gideon.
In keeping with typical big telecom misinformation campaigns, TWC brought authors of an often cited report written by two industry darlings, Davidson and Santorelli. The same report, full of errors, mischaracterizations, and untruths, has circulated among the anti-muni crowd. The report was filed with the FCC during the Comment period as they considered the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions to expand in spite of state barriers. We considered it so egregiously inaccurate, we felt compelled to address some of its errors in our Reply Comments.
TWC made a gallant effort to lock in legislators to their way of thinking, but we suspect there were hold outs. Not every one attended the event:
“I’m a new legislator and I’m trying to be very diligent about making sure that I provide an appropriate distance to meet my comfort level,” said Higgins. He said his service on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee made him especially sensitive about appearing to take favors, because it’s “the committee that Time Warner comes before on any issues that relate to their core business.”
As we reported earlier this year, Higgins has drafted his own bill to provide funding to encourage better broadband in rural areas. Higgins's bill makes state funding available to municipalities and does not prevent them from investing in publicly owned infrastructure.