'Astroturf' Groups Leading Drive to Kill Open Internet

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Common Dreams

'Astroturf' Groups Leading Drive to Kill Open Internet

Vice report exposes industry-created and backed organizations that pose as consumer groups.

(Photo: Free Press)

(Photo: Free Press)

The telecommunications industry is creating and funding front groups which pose as consumer organizations and aggressively lobby to kill net neutrality, journalist Lee Fang revealed in an article published in Vice on Friday.

"We've known since the beginning of the net neutrality debate that the phone and cable industry has been willing to spend limitless amounts of money on public relations firms, think tanks, and 'astroturf' groups who will then do their bidding," Timothy Karr, senior strategy director for media justice organization Free Press, told Common Dreams in response to the report.

Industry front groups have led the drive to overturn net neutrality and block a grassroots push to reclassify the internet as a public utility—a designation that could bolster efforts to protect the open internet, Fang's article revealed.

The American Consumer Institute, a professed consumer organization, has aggressively lobbied the FCC against such reclassification. As it turns out, annual tax returns reported by Vice show that this organization is financially backed by an internet service provider lobby group.

Broadband for America, which describes itself as an organization of 300 members "ranging from independent consumer advocacy groups, to content and application providers, to the companies which build and maintain the internet," has also opposed naming the internet a public utility. $2 million of the organization's $3.5 million budget comes from the National Cable and Telecom Association, according to a disclosure obtained by Vice.

The Heartland Institute, also working to kill net neutrality, receives major funding from Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable, the reporting revealed.

"The groups exposed in the Vice report have been known to take industry money and then generate press releases, studies and others reports favorable to the phone and cable industry's positions, and they are not alone," said Karr.

He added that grassroots media justice advocates are not fooled by industry "astroturfing." According to Karr, "This has been a classic battle between corporate money and grassroots organizing. Whereas our power is derived from building broad and diverse coalitions of a lot of people, their power comes from the checkbooks and their ability to influence the debate inside the Beltway."

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