Tag: "astroturf"

Posted February 5, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

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 Mitchell

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,...

Read more
Posted April 29, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

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...

Read more
Posted October 7, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

I hesitate to say, "know your enemy," because the carriers should not be our enemy. There are many ways these carriers can continue profiting even without damaging America's standing in international broadband rankings. However, they are instead attacking our efforts to regain parity with peer nations by forming astroturf groups to argue that only they can save us from the problems their lack of investment have created - and then only by reducing regulations on them. How convenient for them...

Thanks to Karl Bode for discussing how they operate:

This claim that their membership list is stocked with "consumer groups" turns out to be as bogus as their stated goals, given there's not a single viable consumer advocacy firm among the group's 100 members. BfA [Broadband for America] does, however, include dozens of "co-opted" minority, disability and other industry-funded groups. Said groups are used by lobbyists to pretend the interests and opinions presented to lawmakers have broad public support, and aren't just the monotonal whining of a handful of corporations interested solely in protecting revenues.

For example, a group that needs funding for a new events center will agree to parrot Verizon policy positions in public press releases. The National Association of the Deaf [NAD] did as much for the baby bells when Verizon and AT&T were trying to eviscerate existing TV laws, even though the law the group was busy cheerfully supporting resulted in cherry-picked next-generation broadband deployment for NAD's constituents.

Photo used under Creative Commons license - thanks to flickr's limonada.

Posted August 20, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

There are so many interesting articles recently (some are actually a bit older than recent, I guess).

  • How did Sweden get so connected? BuddeBlog took a look at how Sweden has invested so greatly into advanced fiber networks. This short post looks at factors from geography to government policy that have helped.

  • Andrew Cohill, an advocate of both fiber and wireless networks, offers a simple explanation for why wireless can only be part of the solution to the problem of universal broadband. Wireless just cannot provide the same high reliability and speeds of wired connections.

  • Following up on yesterday's call on the FCC to stop ignoring muni broadband, Karl Bode observes:

    Interestingly, of the 51 "constituents" brought in for the 8 most recent workshops, just five don't work for a corporation -- and zero of them act as witnesses for consumer interests (so clearly, you've got your work cut out for you).

  • And finally, Timothy Karr at Free Press has been unmasking astroturf groups funded by major carriers. Learn more with this fun widget (available here).

  • Posted April 17, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

    From Common Cause report description:

    Cable, telephone and Internet industry giants are fiercely lobbying, using every tool at their disposal to gain a competitive advantage in telecom reform legislation. Some of those tools are easy to spot - campaign contributions, television ads that run only inside the Beltway, and meetings with influential members of Congress. Other tactics are more insidious.

    One of the underhanded tactics increasingly being used by telecom companies is "Astroturf lobbying" -- creating front groups that try to mimic true grassroots, but that are all about corporate money, not citizen power.

    Another industry approach is to fund "think tanks" and nonprofit groups with innocuous sounding names to write reports and policy papers. These groups accept subsidies or grants from corporate interests to lobby or produce research when they normally might not, but too often fail to disclose the connection between their policy positions and their bank accounts.

    Pages

    Subscribe to astroturf