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August 11, 2006

No intention of playing fair
Posted by Teresa at 01:58 PM * 40 comments

Common Cause (ack, pthui!)* has released its second list of groups which are ostensibly untethered think tanks and public interest organizations, but which are actually controlled and funded by telephone and cable companies. (The first list came out in March.)

For instance, one of the groups outed in the latest list is Hands Off the Internet. From the sound of it, you’d think they were net neutrality activists. In fact, it’s just the opposite: HOTI is backed by the telecommunications industry, and it pumps out anti-net-neutrality disinformation:

For example, one print ad attempts to frame the Hands Off the Internet message in pro-consumer terms. “Net neutrality means consumers will be stuck paying more for their Internet access to cover the big online companies’ share.”

Unlike real grassroots public-interest groups, it doesn’t have to worry about finances. It has big corporate money behind it:

In a single month, HOTI spent $693,658 on television advertising alone, according to independent researchers at the Campaign Media Analysis Group. That’s more than $20,000 a day on TV commercials. The group has also been running full-page ads regularly in papers like The Washington Post and Roll Call.

If there were ever a case where you can prove the dishonest intent underlying astroturf organizations, it’s this one. If all the telecommunications industry wanted to do was get their message across, they’re the one group in the United States that’s absolutely guaranteed to be able to do it. I mean, they’re the freakin’ telecommunications industry! But that’s not what they did.

These corporations didn’t invent or build the Internet, or the World Wide Web; but now that there’s real money to be made from it, they want to get a chokehold on it. Their long-term goal is the usual one: to maximize their profits without having to create new value.

If you’re new to this idea, imagine there’s a rule in Monopoly that says you can pay $5,000 to have a rule changed. The first one or two players who got big enough to buy rule changes could guarantee they’d always make money and never take a fall, and that the other players would stay poor and powerless forever.

When it comes to net neutrality and other bandwidth ownership issues, the telecommunications industry has never had the slightest intention of playing fair. They don’t give a damn about democratic institutions or the long-term public good. Like all the other corporations who do astroturf-based propaganda and disinformation campaigns, they think democracy and open public discourse are for little people and losers like you and me.

List #1:
Consumers for Cable Choice
Progress and Freedom Foundation
American Legislative Exchange Council
New Millennium Research Council
Frontiers of Freedom
Keep It Local NJ
Internet Innovation Alliance
Hands Off the Internet
The Future… Faster
Video Access Alliance
I’ve said this before, and I desperately wish I weren’t certain that before long I’ll be saying it again: Deceiving us has become an industrial process.
Comments on No intention of playing fair:
#1 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:23 PM:

Another example of this is the recent story that the video on YouTube which parodied An Inonvenient Truth really came from a public relations firm. The public relations firm, DCI, has a contract with ExxonMobil. This doesn't mean that they did this on behalf of ExxonMobil. But that they released the video on YouTube makes me think that they had intended for it to look as if it were one person's honest reaction to the movie rather than the product of a PR firm.

#2 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:40 PM:

This might not be the right place to ask, but you all seem a kind and intelligent bunch, so I'll take the chance: does anyone know if this is just going to affect the US, or should those of us in the rest of the world be worried as well?

#3 ::: cherie priest ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:42 PM:

This goes a long way towards explaining some of the commercials I've seen on TV since I arrived in Seattle. There's a campaign here (I wish I'd paid closer attention and could offer a URL) wherein a voice-over complains for thirty seconds about how "they call it net neutrality; we call it sticking it to the customer."

Thanks for laying this info out here.
I'd been wondering about it.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:47 PM:

Who was it who said 'once you can fake sincerity you've got it made'?

Public relations is increasing about faking democracy. I wonder if a kind of Gresham's law will apply?

#5 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:49 PM:

If the current Congress has its way, the marriage of business to government will be completed as fast as possible -- and the only taxes will be on the backs of those who work.

Why do the communications companies want to foul up the net? So they can use it strictly to deliver pay downloads of schlock movies at ever higher prices. Such a fine use for this medium! Why, it's as if there is no other way to get schlock movies, right?

#6 ::: Andy Vance ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:53 PM:

It could be worse. Much worse.

#8 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 04:45 PM:

Cherie: probably made by the same folks who came up with "they call it pollution, we call it life" for CO2.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Andy Vance: There's worse than that. Consider Türkmenbashi.

#10 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 06:33 PM:

Common Cause's lists neglect Advanced Technology Alliance, which has been the source of robot phone messages and doorknob-hung circulars around here.

It's a nonprofit group dedicated to "cable choices in Illinois." When I got an answering-machine message urging me to join, it smelled like astroturf, and I checked up.

Several cities near Aurora have slowed down AT&T's "Project Lightspeed" fiber-to-the-curb installation. The phone company will bring broadband into homes and deliver TV programming over data links, thus competing with cable-TV companies.

Aurora isn't one of the Lightspeed foot-draggers, so I'm not sure why we're targeted. Our city is installing a free (ad-supported) wireless Internet service on all the lightpoles, so maybe that's the reason.

Anyway, the domain for the Advanced Technology Alliance is registered to a PR firm in downtown Chicago, Jasculca/Terman.

Clicking on "what we do" and then "Find out if you may need JT's services," one of the scenarios is this:

"I'm an attorney and I've got the legal arena covered, but my clients also have a problem in the court of public opinion."

And under "Clients" we see that they work for AT&T, among others. They also do a lot of work in statewide political campaigns.

This is not a grassroots organization. I don't like cable TV companies, but I don't like being hoodwinked, either.

I would guess that AT&T is eager to grab TV-watching revenues, possibly without the
inconvenience of providing public-access channels or other goodies that cities demand from their monopolists.

#11 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 07:26 PM:

Thank you for your research and excellent summary of what's going on, Teresa. I was trying to explain some of this to my 14-year-old this afternoon and this will be a tremendous help.

I echo Greg's grr.

#12 ::: Andy Vance ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 08:07 PM:

Andy Vance: There's worse than that.

I'm talking propaganda, not brutality.

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 09:06 PM:

Andy Vance: What do you call naming months after your family? Or putting up gold-plated statues to yourself?

#14 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 09:18 PM:

KristianB, on the off chance that you didn't mean to post on the previous thread, The point, I suspect all countries have organizations that pretend to be things they aren't.

#15 ::: togolosh ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 10:21 PM:

Deception has been an industrial process since the advent of mass market advertizing. These people spend tons of money researching new techniques for convincing people of things without regard to whether or not the things are true.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 11:30 PM:

JC, if it wasn't astroturf, we have to believe that a PR firm did the work on the cuff, for no particular reason. PR firms don't normally do that.

Cherie, unless the ads you're seeing openly admit that they're funded by the telecommunications industry, they're almost certainly astroturf.

KristianB, it certainly can affect other countries.

For one thing, it fouls up US politics, and undermines democracy and the public discourse. That's bad for us, but it's also bad for the rest of the world. Example: there are astroturf organizations out there arguing that we don't need to take any actions to stop global warming that would discommode their covert corporate sponsors.

For another, it sets an extremely bad example, and the people who are trained to run these kinds of operations can take their expertise into other countries.

For a third, overseas corporations may feel that they can't compete if they're limited and supervised by the governments of their home countries, but our corporations aren't. It encourages them to misbehave in the same ways.

Bill, nice work there. I usually just figure that if they had my best interests at heart, they'd speak to me directly instead of putting out slick disinformation.

Georgiana, I'm glad it's helpful. If you'll go back to the last paragraph, you'll find I've added three links to earlier stuff on this same subject.

#17 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 01:38 AM:

The problem with any attempt to legislate Net Neutrality is that it won't work, at best. Consider how well the federal government did legislating "against" spam, with They-CAN-SPAM.

I couldn't write a net neutrality law that did only the right things and had no evil side effects, and I'd do a lot better than the government ever could if it wanted to. Given that it won't want to (it might pass a law with that name but guess who'd be paying for it), any law would be much worse than no law.

#18 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 02:31 AM:

Well, lets get busy pushing back. I made this parody of AT&T's ad after their shocking 'we own the pipes and you'll pay' statements.
If someone with a better announcers voice or sharper script wants to do one, I'm happy to help edit things together.

#19 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 03:39 AM:

Marilee, Teresa, thanks for responding. I did mean to post here, but I was asking about Net Neutrality specifically, not astroturf in general. Sorry if that wasn't clear(or on topic).

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 08:44 AM:

There's been copverage of net neutrality and other issues (like the dropping of the planned .xxx TLD that would have made it easier to filter out porn sites) on The Register, a British-based tech-news site. I wouldn't be surprised if people find faults in their coverage, but it doesn't look grossly one-sided.

There's new forms of net traffic that are going to need some attention paid to sharing capacity. With Internet technology becoming a basis for telephone networks and video delivery, if you want to share fibres you need some sort of quality-of-service provision in operation and contracts.

And you're still going to need more capacity.

Reading between the lines a bit, I think a part of the fuss, and possibly a driving force for the dirty tricks, is the value (I hesitate to call it profitability) of operations such as Google, the potential income for charging them for a connection, and how the money flows from whoever has direct contracts with Google.

Google pays some telco-entity %BIG_NUM to carry %LOADSABYTES, but how much moeny does that particular telco-entity pay to the companies it connects to.

I pay money for my internet connection, related to the traffic it can carry but, again, how much gets passed on to other telco-entities.

Is is possible that the idea that traffic averages out has become distorted by the big data sources? I send a few tens of bytes, plus packet headers to Goofle, and get back a large amount of data, web page and adverts. Who pays, and is the man-in-the-middle being ripped off?

But I think the astroturf, and the behaviour of big business, is going to screw up the efforts to find workable answers.

#21 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 11:00 AM:

And another angle: Human Rights Watch has released a report on Chinese censorship of the internet. Not only is deceiving us an "industrial" process, major industries are participating in implementation of the process.

#22 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 10:30 PM:

Has anyone else read Robert B. Cialdini's _Influence_ book? He talks about all kinds of techniques for manipulating people, and that book made me realize that there are whole professions dedicated to this.

I keep wondering whether there are people being paid yet to go comment on blogs on behalf of their employers. There surely will be such people, as more people move away from watching talking heads on TV or reading opinion pieces in the newspaper as a method to see discussion of issues. I expect that in the next few years, we'll see all kinds of nasty tricks brought to bear to influence discussion online. It's interesting to ask what technical defenses would help against this sort of thing. An interesting preview of this was the (pretty obviously US government run) denial-of-service attack on the Al Jazeera website during the opening days of the Iraq misadventure. The apparent purpose was to make sure Americans with net connections could not easily see the stuff that was being shown in the Arab world, which had a very different slant than US broadcasts. Specifically, they were showing dead and wounded American soldiers, and dead and wounded Iraqi civilians.

#23 ::: Ian Burrell ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 10:51 PM:

Dave, it is quite possible the ISPs that Google connects don't pay anything to exchange the traffic that Google generates.

There are three ways to access other networks on the Internet. One, you sell access to customers. Two, you pay for access (or transit). Three, you peer with another network and agree to exchange traffic for free. Consumers and most companies buy bandwidth from one company. Small ISPs buy access and resell it. Medium sized ISPs peer with some and pay for the transit to reach the rest of the Internet. The biggest ones, the so-called tier one, peer or sell to everybody.

#24 ::: Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 12:59 PM:

Thank you so much for making this information available! Someone from HOTI posted their propaganda into my blog and it was nice to be able to find out what they're really up to.

Here's the link to the entry.

#25 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 04:40 PM:

Can I point out that there is one organization on the list that doesn't belong there?

American Legislative Exchange Council is many things, but astro-turf isn't one of them; they are openly a public policy/lobbying shop. In other words, their website gives their position on issues, their website specifies that they work to get "business participation in developing legislation", and their meeting agendas list speakers with their corporate affiliation.

(Full disclosure--I was an intern with ALEC when I was in college.)

#26 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 05:44 PM:
The problem with any attempt to legislate Net Neutrality is that it won't work, at best.

Well, I'm glad we've got that figured out

I couldn't write a net neutrality law that did only the right things and had no evil side effects

When did perfection become the minimum standard for law?

and I'd do a lot better than the government ever could if it wanted to. Given that it won't want to (it might pass a law with that name but guess who'd be paying for it), any law would be much worse than no law.

I don't take that as a given in the long term. In the short term, it need to be established as a valid target of regulation so that in the long term it can be done. I'm not convinced, either, that it's not attainable in the short term.

I blame modern can't-do-ist ideology on Robert Heinlein.

#27 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 09:57 PM:

adamsj, I've challenged people who know even more than I do about Internet routing to write a Net Neutrality Law that won't make things worse. They agreed they can't.

But feel free to go ahead and try, you'll learn something.

Do you really want your cable provider to be neutral between you making a VOIP phonecall and your neighbor downloading a 5 gig linux distro?

Should a provider be able to charge more for a 7 Mbps connection than a 2 Mbps connection?

#28 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 09:14 AM:


I really want my ISP (cable? What's that? Oh, a television thingy. No, thanks) to be neutral between me getting some type of content from one source and me getting that same type of content from another source.

You're putting up nice straw men, though. I forsee a successful career in lobbying for you.

#29 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 09:46 AM:

Seth, seems to me that Vint Cerf knows something about the subject. Of course, he is representing the not-so-evil empire of Google these days, so maybe you can discount his opinion.

#30 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 09:49 AM:

Oh, yes, and Tim Berners-Lee.

#31 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:01 AM:

From Tim Berners Lee.

Net neutrality is this:

If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.

That's all.

So, if Alice pays for 5Mps and Bob pays for 8Mps, then they should be able to talk at 5 Mps.

OK. So, this seems so stupidly obvious in a "Well, duh" sort of way, that I'm having trouble understanding where the exploit is coming from to push to have net neutrality dropped.

If Alice and Bob both pay for 5 Mps, but there is no net neutrality, then Alice might pay more to the ISP so that her packets get priority over Bob's, and their minimum bandwidth promises are mute.

Ah, so basically, killing net neutrality is basically doing away with minimum bandwidth agreements, and converting the packet routing rules to "biggest money wins".

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:20 AM:

Gerg, it's also "I'm paying the carriers more so they'll send more people to my site than to my competitors' sites" - that's the bit that's causing the reactions. How does Joe's Books, with one location, compete with Sam's, with twenty or thirty locations and a budget to match, when Sam can pay ATT much more for bandwidth and coming up early with a search engine?

#33 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 01:36 PM:

And--and this is the trigger--don't compete with video which we supply. It's the cable companies, trying to keep their monopoly.

#34 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 01:51 PM:

Yeah, they're looking at videos for lots of money. (I'd rather buy a DVD than try downloading two or three hours of video, and it may be less expensive even in the short run.) Has someone explained, in small words and slowly, how long it takes to actually download a movie?

#35 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 02:36 PM:

PJ, with a fast neutral internet, you don't have to download videos at all; you can watch them, just like ordinary cable broadcasts. And that's what the cable companies are trying to prevent--the emergence of video-on-demand services that run over their wires.

#36 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 02:52 PM:

ah, so, Cable Charlie who owns a cable company and provides ISP service for Alice and Bob wants to be able to bump Netflix Ned's video-on-demand bandwidth. Then Ned can't sell video to Alice and Bob because minimum bandwidth, minimum quality of service, isn't guaranteed.

Probably the same with VOIP Vicky who wants to sell phone service to Alice adn Bob, but Charlie keeps dropping packets on her so Alice and Bob go with Charlies digital phone service instead.


#37 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:13 PM:

Randolph, seems to me that Vint Cerf works for Google and is speaking for them there.

#38 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:36 PM:

Marilee, yes, I thought I'd alluded to that; he's working for the not-so-evil empire (I am wryly amused to note that I have their URL memorized) these days.

#39 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 08:35 PM:

Randolph, I have a fancy trackball and I programmed one of the buttons to launch Google.

#40 ::: crazysoph sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2009, 03:24 AM:

really, what non-spam threatens you with death if you report something as spam?

Crazy(and keeping watch at the hour before popping out to the Saturday market in her town)Soph

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