Tag: "astroturf"

Posted November 15, 2011 by christopher

Any hint that the Comcast-funded effort in Longmont to oppose authorizing the City to provide broadband services was anything but an astroturf campaign of lies has evaporated in the wake of its overwhelming defeat.

If there had been a shred of local legitimacy among the "Look Before We Leap" group that was run by Denver-based strategists, it probably would have kept its website up for longer than a few days after the election. If I were them, I would want to keep a record for the future.

But they don't. Because they were just a bunch of paid public relations people working a job. They didn't oppose Longmont's initiative, they didn't know anything about it. They were collecting a paycheck. And this is what they left behind:

Look Before We Leap, disappeared

The Times-Call has a hopeful reflection about the broadband battle (somewhat classier than the hilarious Neener Neener Neener poke at Comcast).

This time, lobbyists for the telecommunications industry spent even more than they did last time -- about $300,000 -- in trying to convince residents that the city having control over its own property was somehow "risky." Obviously, the lobbyists, including the euphemistically monikered Americans for Prosperity, were only concerned about the welfare of Longmont residents and the health of the local economy. They spent so much money to show just how concerned they were.

But the majority of the voters weren't buying what they were selling. People had the audacity to think for themselves and make up their own minds.

Personally, I would thank the anti-2A folks for pouring so much money into the local economy, except most of its spending was elsewhere. They did pop for a few ads in this newspaper, though, so for that they have my gratitude.

The author, Tony Kindelspire, goes on to note just how amazing it was to see...

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Posted November 2, 2011 by christopher

What a difference two years and a strong grassroots campaign makes. Two years ago, Comcast's ability to spend $245,000 on a campaign of lies was the determining factor over Longmont's decision about using publicly owned infrastructure to expand broadband competition.

Yesterday, despite Comcast spending even more by again funneling hundreds of thousands through the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Commission, voters overwhelmingly supported question 2A - reinstating local government authority to offer telecommunications services using its infrastructure.

Full congratulations must go to the Longmont citizens who organized a truly grassroots campaign that sent people out on the streets with signs, organized informational events, disseminated press releases, maintained an information web page (and Facebook page), wrote letters to the editor, commented on online news stories, and otherwise educated their peers about the opportunity 2A offered. Craig Settles is also celebrating with a post describing the victory.

Once again, the question was:

Without increasing taxes, shall the citizens of the City of Longmont, Colorado, re-establish their City's right to provide all services restricted since 2005 by Title 29, article 27 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, described as "advanced services," "telecommunications services" and "cable television services," including any new and improved high bandwidth services based on future technologies, utilizing community owned infrastructure including but not limited to the existing fiber optic network, either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners, to potential subscribers that may include telecommunications service providers, residential or commercial users within the City and the service area of the City's electric utility enterprise?

Question 2A results

The results were 60.8% Yes, 39.2% No. 13,238 voted yes whereas 8,529 voted against.

The Times-Call has already posted a story about the results, including some...

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Posted October 12, 2011 by christopher

We have been closely following the referendum in Longmont, Colorado, that will allow the local government to use an existing fiber loop to sell telecommunications services to the private sector and residents.

Comcast and CenturyLink are opposed because local businesses would have more choices for broadband services -- which would require Comcast and CenturyLink to actually invest in their offerings rather than simply collecting the benefits of a de facto monopoly. It is more profitable for them to invest in astroturf opposition to the referendum than in their physical infrastructure.

When this came up previously, Comcast and its allies spent an unprecedented $245,000 to defeat it by confusing and lying to voters. This time around, big cable may outdo itself. It looks like Comcast and anti-competition allies in the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association have already spent some $239,000 [pdf] in glossy mailers and phone calls and door knockers to scare Longmont's voters into defeating the 2A ballot initiative.

The Comcast-sponsored Vote No group is called "Look Before We Leap and has already been busted for lying about the Mayor's position on the referendum, claiming he supported their position when he has been emphatically on the record in support of 2A. In fact, his challenger in the Mayoral race also supports 2A, as detailed here in the statements from both candidates on the issue.

Public Persuasion Logo

So who exactly is "Look Before We Leap?" They cannot point to any real local support in the community. The web site is registered to "Melisa Kotecki Schlote" of a PR firm, Public Persuasion that lists both Comcast and the Colorado Cable and Telecommunications...

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Posted October 6, 2011 by christopher

Just one day after getting busted for lying about its supporters, a group funded by self-interested groups outside the community is accusing the City of distributing propaganda regarding an upcoming referendum over whether the City should have the authority to use an existing fiber-loop to spur economic development.

We developed a comic that explored the ways cable and phone companies use dirty tricks to fool people into voting against more competition in broadband (such as this "Look Before We Leap" Vote no group).

As if to prove our point for us, that group was busted for outrageously claiming the Mayor wanted people to vote no when the Mayor has been explicit in not just supporting the referendum but in condemning outsider groups like theirs from coming into the community to do the dirty work of anti-competitive incumbents.

Bryan Baum has appeared at several forums in support of 2A, including a Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce forum in which he urged out-of-town opponents of the ballot question to "get out of town" and let Longmont settle its own issues.

The group said "This is obviously a mistake," Merritt said. "We'll get that fixed." Yeah sure. Whoops. We accidentally claimed a prominent figure as a supporter. Their response? They took his name off that list but left his wife's name on their site!

Comcast's front group has zero credibility

This is a group with absolutely zero credibility. But they have tons of funding -- likely from Comcast and incumbent trade groups that fight these initiatives everywhere to preserve what is essentially a monopoly for the cable and telephone companies. We just republished an op-ed outlining some these tactics from 2009.

Now the "Look Before We Leap" group is accusing the City of distributing propaganda.

Longmont'...

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Posted October 5, 2011 by christopher

In a recent post about AT&T's funding of astroturf groups to promote its agenda, I took aim at the Internet Innovation Alliance, which has long promoted AT&T goals around the country.

Despite this criticism of them, they have produced a very good infographic (included below) that discusses the relationship between broadband and jobs. I would like to draw your attention to number 5 below in particular.

“10

#6 is a great explanation of why communities should directly invest in broadband. Local economic growth and secondary investment enabled by broadband expansion is 10 times the initial investment.

Think about that. While private companies have long built, owned, and operated most of the broadband networks, they have seriously underinvested. They underinvest because they cannot monetize many of the benefits from broadband. Faster, more reliable connections simply do not translate into more revenue for cable and telephone companies. So the big incumbents have largely ceased investing in next-generation networks.

These massive corporations do not care about the growth of secondary investments or other spillover effects from better broadband in communities because it does not change their bottom line -- the one thing they are supposed to prioritize over all other matters.

This is why communities should be investing in themselves. Communities do care about secondary investments and spillover benefits from broadband. In fact, they are specifically tasked with investing to benefit the community!

So when it comes to maximizing the benefits of broadband, community investments tend to make a lot of sense... and other secondary benefits.

Posted September 30, 2011 by christopher

As AT&T tries to buy out its competition via the T-Mobile merger, it has sent out its allies and minions to push the company line in communities around the country. Here are two events in Minnesota and Wisconsin you should be aware of.

On Monday, October 3rd, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota is going to host a debate between Amalia Deloney (MAG-Net Coordinator and friend of MuniNetworks.org) and Former Congressman Rick Boucher on the subject of AT&T's attempt to buy T-Mobile (which just happens to be the low cost provider in the wireless space).

A few short years ago, one would have expected Rick Boucher to champion opposition to this anti-competitive merger, but alas, the good citizens of his district rewarded his many years of hard work in Congress by voting for his opponent in the last election. As one often expects to see in DC, Rick took a new job and now works for a law firm with AT&T as a client.

Suddenly Rick Boucher is the Honorary Chairman of the "Internet Innovation Alliance," a group that has a name that sounds like he should head it. But the IIA is little more than a puppet for AT&T and like interests. They use it as part of their astroturf campaigns to further AT&T's agenda -- ensuring that most Americans are stuck using a network designed for AT&T's interests rather than the public interest.

We wish Amalia the best in the debate. This is a far better program than the last time AT&T came to the U's Public Policy school, which featured a blatantly one-sided program attacking inter-carrier compensation rules that have been essential for supporting rural network investment.

If you want to attend, you should RSVP to the Center for Science and Technology Public Policy. It will be at 2:00 in the Wilkins Room. Unfortunately, I have a prior appointment and cannot attend.

But the fun doesn't stop in Minnesota - it continues to Wisconsin on Oct 12 when The Internet Innovation Alliance...

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Posted June 20, 2011 by christopher

Public interest advocates in the telecom arena have long been frustrated with a parade of large, powerful non-profit organizations blindly supporting the positions of powerful telecom companies that just happen to make large donations to those non-profits.

A story this week confirmed the worst of our suppositions: these groups often have little idea of what they are supporting. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation seemed pretty enthused about the AT&T T-Mobile takeover a few weeks ago. Odd for GLAAD to be excited about its constituency paying higher prices for wireless services, but whatever.

Until a few days ago, when we got a look behind the scenes -- AT&T wrote their statement and it was simply signed by the organization's President -- who apparently had no idea what it was about. But he knew that AT&T gives big money to the org. He has since resigned.

Around the time that we learned of the GLAAD shenanigans, we learned how super excited Cattle Ranchers are for the AT&T takeover of T-Mobile. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this merger will do anything for rural residents but increase the prices they pay. There is no shortage of spectrum in rural areas so T-Mobile offers nothing AT&T cannot do on its own.

And while the Cattle Ranchers are clamoring for higher monthly prices from AT&T, the single best hope for rapidly expanding wireless broadband access in rural areas - the unlicensed white spaces - is being quietly killed. Ironic, ain't it?

I have long supported the efforts of the Media Action Grassroots, which works to organize and educate people about essential issues in telecom and media. They work with real people and represent real people's interests all the time, not just when it doesn't conflict with a big donor. We need to support organizations that support our values, particularly when it is inconvenient to do so.

Update: More of the media is finally starting to take notice of the obvious:...

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Posted February 5, 2011 by christopher

As you observe (or hopefully, participate in), the debates around network neutrality or universal service fund reform, remember that many of the loudest voices in support of industry positions are likely to be astroturf front groups.  Between extremely well-financed astroturf organizations and industry-captured regulatory agencies, creating good policy that benefits the public is hard work.  It helps to study how industry has gamed the FCC in the past -- as documented by David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick in a recent Alternet article.

At the risk of being sarcastic, we can thank the FCC for working with the industry to make our phone bills to easy to read - an example is available here.

Posted August 12, 2010 by christopher

Despite a coordinated campaign by cable incumbent Charter that offered little honest debate or accurate claims, the citizens of Opelika voted yes on their referendum to allow the city to build a broadband network. The City's public power utility will use the network for smart-grid services and a private company will likely contract to deliver triple-play services.

Opelika's Mayor had this reaction:

This video is no longer available.

Mayor Fuller also said:

It’s a great day for Opelika. It’s a great day for our future. It’s a terrible day for Charter,”

One gets the sense that the Mayor took some umbrage at Charter's tactics to prevent the community from building its own network.

The day before the election, Stop the Cap! ran a fantastic article about Charter's manufactured opposition to the community network.

Phillip Dampier investigated the background and claims of prominent opponents, including Jack Mazzola, who might as well have written some of the articles in the local paper about the Smart-Grid project for how often he was quoted by the reporter (who often failed to offer a countering view from anyone in support of the network).

Jack Mazzola claims to be a member of Concerned Citizens of Opelika and has become a de facto spokesman in the local press.  He claims he is “30 years old and have been a resident of Opelika for almost two years.” During that time, he evidently forgot to update his active Facebook page, which lists his current city of residence as Atlanta, Georgia.  Suspicious readers of the local newspaper did some research of their own and claim Mr. Mazzola has no history of real estate or motor vehicle taxes paid to Lee County, which includes Opelika.

Any community considering a referendum on this issue should read this Stop the Cap! post and learn from it because massive cable companies like Charter all use the same tactics in community after community. When communities do not have a response ready, they can suffer at the polls.

If you are suspicious about the viability of municipal fiber, simply ask yourself if they are such failures, why do phone and cable companies spend millions to lobby against them?  Why the blizzard of scare mailers,...

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Posted April 29, 2010 by christopher

I was briefly checking out the Open Internet Workshop when I got into a short tweet-argument with someone I did not know. Bear with me as I recount the discussion then explain why I think it worth delving into for a post. This person caught my attention by tweeting, "Which means the Net is already open, right?"

I responded, "Yes Internet is open. Trying to keep it that way. Idea that net neutrality is 'new' is absurd."

Shortly thereafter, I got a response that fits a standard script: "Then how about proving actual harm first? Burden of proof to hand Net to govt is on you guys."

I responded, "Comcast, RCN, Cox block applications ... why must we wait for you to break the Net further to fix it?"

The final response was that the market forces will solve the problem and my "examples are outdated."

I later discovered that I was wasting time responding to someone from an astroturf think tank. Odds are that this person was simultaneously tweeting that cigarette smoking is not correlated with cancer and that burning coal actually cleans the air.

But this is a common argument from those who want to allow companies like Comcast and AT&T to tell users what sites they can visit and what applications they can use. Some "free market" advocate (who is actually defending firms with serious market power, the antithesis of a free market) says that no private network owner would violate network neutrality. Then, when presented with companies that have violated network neutrality, the response is invariably that those are "old" examples" or somehow not relevant.

To sum up:

Person A: No company would violate network neutrality.

Person B: What about Comcast, Cox, RCN, and the famous Madison River Communication?

Person A: Those don't count.

Aside from the absurdity, the larger problem is that we do not always know when companies are violating network neutrality. Comcast was violating network neutrality for at least a year before tech journalists successfully outed the practice. Over the course of that year, many subscribers called Comcast and asked why they were having problems with certain applications. Comcast lied to them and said the company was not interfering with them. When finally backed into a corner with incontrovertible evidence, it...

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