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12/22/2006
02:12 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
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Cable Industry-vs.-Telco-Giants Is An Astroturf War

While I'm against tilting the playing field in favor of AT&T, which appears to be what Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin was trying to do in this week's FCC ruling on local franchise applications, I'm not against real competition in local broadband. But as you might expect given the players, it gets unreal pretty quickly. One example: "Astroturf" local support.

While I'm against tilting the playing field in favor of AT&T, which appears to be what Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin was trying to do in this week's FCC ruling on local franchise applications, I'm not against real competition in local broadband. But as you might expect given the players, it gets unreal pretty quickly. One example: "Astroturf" local support.It was a term that I hadn't heard before when I read Ars Technica's article subtitled "AT&T and the politics of influence." Astroturf support means the opposite of real grassroots support. Apparently one of the weapons AT&T has rolled out in its bid win local franchises to deliver IPTV in the Chicago suburbs is the support of a special interest group that calls itself the Advanced Technology Alliance. The ATA pushes AT&T's agenda hard, and claims to be a grassroots organization funded by its members -- but it won't say who those members are, who's on its board of directors, or where its money comes from. Only one known person has ever been connected to the ATA -- Rachel Roemke, a PR operative wlith connections to an agency that's done work for AT&T.

The Ars Technica story mentions another apparent Astroturf organization, Video Access Alliance. headed by one Julia Johnson, who appeared before The House Commerce Committee push the telco agenda. A committee member, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), got down to the bottom line pretty quickly, as recounted by the Common Cause Web site:

Markey: Is your organization financially supported by the Bell [telephone] companies in any way?
Johnson: No, we're not.
Markey: At all.
Johnson: Yes, and let me elaborate upon that too. We're a relatively new organization.
Markey: No, that's OK. I can go along with that answer. That's fine. Thank you. And are you compensated in any way by the Bell companies?
Johnson: I have a consulting firm that works for a variety of companies, generally in the regulatory space.
Markey: But are the Bell companies amongst those companies that pay you?
Johnson: Yes.
Markey: OK. Thank you.

Astroturf support. Gotta love that term.

The agenda Johnson was pushing, by the way, was opposition to any provisions that would require telephone companies that win broadband or IPTV franchises to build out their services to poor, rural or minority neighborhoods. The telcos' history of promising service improvements to win rate hikes or regulatory approvals and failing to keep those promises is a very sorry tale, told at length on www.teletruth.org. It's an enthralling picture of corporations acting against the public interest, with the connivance of government agencies. And given the FCC's recent action, it's only the beginning. Get ready for the telcos to Astroturf your town.

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