Advocacy groups accused of obscuring corporate ties in net neutrality debate

Recent news stories point to connections between broadband carriers or trade groups and advocacy groups

A Vice.com story in June alleges that Broadband for America and other groups are astroturfing for broadband providers in the U.S. net neutrality debate.

A Vice.com story in June alleges that Broadband for America and other groups are astroturfing for broadband providers in the U.S. net neutrality debate.

A spate of recent news stories have revealed that a wide variety of lobby groups have financial ties to broadband carriers and trade associations, accusing them of faking grassroots opposition to strong net neutrality rules.

The recent coverage from news organizations has overwhelmingly targeted a lack of funding transparency in groups opposed to strong net neutrality regulations. Some of that coverage disparity may be because groups advocating for strong net neutrality rules tend to be more transparent about their funding than groups opposed, but some pro-net neutrality groups also have limited funding transparency mechanisms.

Much of the reporting on so-called astroturfing has come from Vice.com, the news and culture website that has championed "immersionist" journalism. Vice is perhaps most famous for sending former Chicago Bulls basketball player Dennis Rodman to North Korea in early 2013.

Other news organizations have written stories in recent months about a lack of funding transparency among groups active in other policy debates. In September, for example, The New York Times reported on foreign governments that allegedly buy influence at U.S. think tanks.

Recent news stories about alleged astroturfing in the net neutrality debate:

Fake support?

In June, Vice.com connected advocacy group Broadband for America to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable broadband providers, and the American Consumer Institute for Citizen Research to MyWireless.org, an arm of mobile trade group CTIA.

Broadband for America, which has opposed strong net neutrality rules, had listed the NCTA as one of dozens of members, but the trade group paid for more than half of Broadband for America's budget, according to the story. At the time, Broadband for America listed the NCTA among its many members, although it didn't disclose how much money each member donated. The group's list of members has since disappeared from its website, although the NCTA remains a member of the group, a spokeswoman said.

Members question group's stance

Days later, Vice.com again looked at Broadband for America and found that many small groups that were listed as members don't share the group's opposition to strong net neutrality rules. Pro-net neutrality tech news blog TechDirt then offered its own commentary.

Selling out the Internet

In July, TheNation.com and other sites published a blog post accusing many civil rights groups of "selling out" the Internet by opposing reclassification of broadband as a regulated utility. The blog post pointed to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which receives money from broadband providers, as the organizer of the opposition.

Comcast and AEI

Also in July, Esquire.com pointed to connections between conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute and Comcast, which opposes reclassification of broadband. AEI doesn't provide a complete list of donors on its website.

Story taken down

In August, TechDirt reported that the July blog post run at TheNation.com and other sites was published, then taken down, at African-American news site NewsOne, whose parent company co-owns a cable TV service with Comcast.

MMTC responds to critics

In August, MMTC responded to the reports in TheNation and TechDirt, saying the organization and other civil rights groups "receive funding from a variety of sources, and ... make their own decisions on policy issues." NewsOne took down the MMTC story because of questions about the story's content, the group suggested.

Lobbying connections

Also in August, Vice.com examined lobbying firm DCI Group and its behind-the-scenes ties to opponents of broadband reclassification. The story looked at DCI's relationship to Politic365, a website focused on policies affecting racial minorities, and its parent organization, MMTC.

The Koch connection

In August, Vice.com's tech-focused Motherboard site called out conservative group American Commitment for failing to disclose its funding sources and for past connections to Republican billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Stealthy street campaign

In early October, ProPublica.org connected street campaign Onward Internet to cable trade group NCTA, saying the group "may be the latest stealth entrant in the increasingly nasty battle over net neutrality."

The NCTA, first coy about its involvement with Onward Internet, later acknowledged it sponsored the campaign. However the street campaign, an NCTA spokesman said, was not focused on net neutrality, but on the broad benefits of the Internet.

NCTA wanted people's unfiltered ideas about the future of the Internet, said NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz.

The trade group wanted to "collect ideas from real individuals and we had to find a way to do it so that it that delivered unbiased opinions," he wrote in a blog post after the ProPublica story appeared. "So we decided to ask anonymously. We wanted to give people a chance to share their vision for the future without being swayed by the asker, leaving them free to express sincere ideas."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags telecommunicationDavid KochTheNation.comProPublica.orginternetInternet service providersMinority Media and Telecommunications CouncilAmerican Enterprise InstituteTechdirtctiaCharles KochBrian DietzDennis RodmanVice.comgovernmentbroadbandAmerican CommitmentBroadband for AmericaDCI GroupAmerican Consumer Institute for Citizen ResearchNational Cable and Telecommunications Associationregulationcomcast

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?