updated 11:35 am EDT, Fri June 6, 2014
One group hired known false grassroots campaign generator to sink measure
Two groups have written letters to the US Federal Communications Commission, opposing the FCC's new net neutrality proposal -- the American Consumer Institute (ACI), and Broadband for America. Both groups claim to be pro-consumer, and purportedly advocate for more choice and lower costs for subscribers. However, both groups are in fact heavily funded by the telecom industry, and are likely "astroturfing" for the cable industries in their fight against FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's threat of Title II regulation by the FCC, embedded in the net neutrality discussion.
Title II regulation of broadband would apply regulation to ISPs similar to that of utilities, such as water and power. While the ISPs and some governmental supporters believe the FCC may not have this power, if implemented, US broadband access would be more tightly monitored for abuses, predatory pricing, and other anti-consumer measures. Additionally, the ISPs would be subject to independent ombudsmen deciding if the companies were taking advantage of their power over consumers.
The American Consumer Institute's mission statement claims that it was founded because "consumers' interests are not satisfactorily represented by the wide variety of advocacy and consumer organizations that often represent small subsets of consumers and special interests." While it also states that it believes that "excessive taxes and regulations often harm consumers," it wishes to stand in the way of the possibility of Title II regulation and net neutrality.
It said in its letter to the FCC that US citizens have "increased choice" in ISP selection (despite most Americans having little if any actual choice), and called the lawsuit that negated net neutrality protections "a victory for consumers." Most of the American Consumer Institute's funding comes from MyWireless.org, lobbyists from the mobile broadband industry and other sources from within the telecommunications industry.
Broadband for America's letter to the FCC demanded that it "categorically rejects" legislation that would make ISPs a utility, and regulated as such. Documents obtained by Vice show that more than half of Broadband for America's funds come from the National Cable and Telecom Association, an unapologetic advocate for cable company interests. Broadband for America has also retained the services of the DCI Group, notorious for spinning off groups claiming wide citizen support for corporate campaigns.
The DCI Group became well known for generating false grassroots organizations to torpedo efforts to tightly regulate Freddie Mac in 2008, in part leading to the global recession. More recently, it has made efforts to stop legislation intended to regulate for-profit colleges. It has also represented ExxonMobil, General Motors, and Myanmar's military leadership. It maintains that its astroturfing efforts maintain "all applicable federal and state laws and regulations."