Congressional Internet Caucus: It’s For Sale!

Who really runs the U.S. Congressional Internet Caucus–Members of Congress or the companies and special interests with the deepest checkbook? Take a look at how a forthcoming Congressional Caucus meeting on wireless issues is, literally, for sale. At the NetCaucus website for the event, chaired by Congressman Mike Honda [Chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus’ Wireless Task Force] is a pitch for “sponsorship.” Here’s how you can push your message before the Hill:

“Sponsorship Opportunities

We are seeking responsible industry players to help facilitate this important policy dialogue with a few key sponsorships. These promotional sponsorship options will help position your organization as a thought leader during the substantive discussions. Your assistance will help to bring together leading location-service providers, social networking sites, advertising service providers, wireless carriers, government officials and Congressional players will come together to start discussing the range of issues, policies and opportunities presented by this emerging marketplace.

Options include:
Dialogue pens: Distribute pens with your logo in conference bags and binders.
Dialogue breaks: We’ll announce your sponsorship of the morning continental breakfast or mid-morning coffee break and feature your logo or brand in the break area.
Dialogue Wi-Fi Hotspots: We will blanket the meeting area with wireless Internet access and include you as a promotional sponsor.
Post-Dialogue VIP Dinner End the conference on a high note and host a VIP event; choose from some of D.C.’s finest restaurants. ICAC staff will work with you to craft the perfect guest list.

Contact us for details & pricing.”

It’s time that the Caucus break its ties with the Advisory Committee and become a truly independent forum. Take a look at the Advisors!

Bill Gates Fails to Address Real Threats to Privacy–from Microsoft and other Interactive Advertisers

Here’s a link to the speech Mr. Gates gave at the CDT “gala” the other night. Note that Mr. Gates failed to address data collection related to marketing and advertising. Why? Because interactive advertising is Microsoft’s new business model. Mr. Gates and much of the industry wish to narrowly frame the debate, permitting both big business and government to have access to our data. Microsoft and its allies basically want a system where the default is data collection and microtargeting. What’s really needed are strong protections requiring an informed opt-in (which would require, for example, for Microsoft, Google, AOL, MySpace, etc. to precisely explain what is being collected and how it’s being used. Then ask for periodic affirmative permission).

The Center for Democracy and Technology hosted a “gala dinner” last night featuring Bill Gates. Billed as a “night for networking,” the event was to (self) honor CDT. CDT has long raised tremendous amounts of money from the very industries it is supposed to serve as a watchdog for. How can the organization really press Microsoft on privacy when it uses Mr. Gates to help the group sell tables at $5,000 each! Having a host committee filled with folks opposing network neutrality and safeguards for online advertising doesn’t help either. For a list, see here. Verizon, the Network Advertisers Initiative, Comcast, Progress and Freedom Foundation are just a few listed. There are some public interest folks as well. How can groups such as CDT act as truly independent advocates for the public interest in digital communications when their hands are out for such donations. Ask yourself.

A Post-script. CDT is part of a corporate coalition pushing for a national privacy policy that would not truly protect the public. It would permit Microsoft and the others to continue their unprecedented collection and abuse of our personal information. Note the huge loopholes–and disingenuousness–in this key section from the CDT/Microsoft backed “Consumer Privacy Legislative Fourm:

Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum Statement of Support in Principle for Comprehensive Consumer Privacy Legislation

The time has come for a serious process to consider comprehensive harmonized federal privacy legislation to create a simplified, uniform but flexible legal framework. The legislation should provide protection for consumers from inappropriate collection and
misuse of their personal information and also enable legitimate businesses to use information to promote economic and social value. In principle, such legislation would address businesses collecting personal information from consumers in a transparent manner with appropriate notice; providing consumers with meaningful choice regarding the use and disclosure of that information; allowing consumers reasonable access to personal information they have provided; and protecting such information from misuse or
unauthorized access. Because a national standard would preempt state laws, a robust framework is warranted.

About the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum: The Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum was organized in the winter of 2006 to support a process to consider comprehensive consumer privacy legislation in the United States. The Forum began with a Steering Committee of companies eBay, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft, the consumer group Center for Democracy and Technology, and Professor Peter Swire of the Ohio State University..

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The Phoenix Center and Georgetown U School of Business: The Latest `Hyperbolic’ Attack on Network Neutrality

Yesterday, the “Phoenix Center” and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University jointly presented some scholarly-types who, trade press reports, approved the idea of the Internet evolving as a “two-tier” market. They held the event at the Dirkensen Senate Office Building, in order to make it easier for Hill aides to attend. According to Communications Daily, Dr. John Mayo of Georgtown noted that: “net neutrality legislation could limit markets’ flexibility to set prices. Mayo suggested the periodicals model to take the “hyperbole” out of the net neutrality debate, said needs more cerebral discussion, he said. “The level of certainty in arguments is too high,” Mayo said. At the same time, the potential investment at risk, depending on how legislation is written, is “staggering,” he said.

What these academics and groups like the Phoenix Center don’t want to recognize is an old-fashioned power grab. The phone and cable giants are fearful of an ever-evolving Internet where they will face numerous challenges to their monopolistic broadband plans. AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner are alarmed about an “always-on” network where anyone can be a multichannel provider of interactive video, or cheaply send voice and SMS messages. We wish Georgetown University would ask its historians, political scientists, psychologists and other academic experts to work with some of the folks at its School of Business. An economic lens is an insufficient instrument when one is discussing the “good and services” required for a democracy. The broadband Internet is a fundamental public service; an essential information utility in this era. We hope that academics and universities will examine this issue in a way which does true service to the debate. When a broadband platform is fundamentally connected to civic participation, cultural expression, journalism & public affairs, diverse ownership, community development and public safety, we suggest that the scholarly analysis has to be elevated to meet the challenge.

We note, btw, that Professor Mayo has served as an advisor and consultant to a number of companies and government agencies, including Enron, AT&T, Sprint, MCI and the FTC. Professor Mayo is also listed as an “external expert” for the Analysis Group. Among its clients include various telephone and cable companies, including Time Warner.
Source: “View Internet as Two-Sideded Market, Experts Say.” Anne Veigle. Communications Daily. dateline: Feb. 20, 2007. Subscription required.

The AEI-Brookings Joint

As we note in our book, there is an endless supply of academics and private scholars who engage in the communications policymaking field. Usually, most academics work for industry hire and supply–surprise–what is deemed intellectual support for corporate political agendas. Missing always is a clear statement of who is funding them. A November paper by two well-known researchers at the “AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies,” now being hailed by anti network neutrality supporters, attempts to undermine the effort to restore non-discrimination safeguards to U.S. broadband networks. Messrs Hahn and Litan acknowledge in a cover footnote that they “have consulted for telecommunications and information technology companies on issues discussed in this paper.” They do not actually list such consultancies. But a glaring omission is the failure to identify who helps fund the Joint Center they co-direct. They include AT&T (and its predecessor SBC), Verizon and the super media monopoly lobbying shop Wiley, Rein and Fielding (which has represented BellSouth, Verizon and others). Such conflicts of interest should have been prominently displayed by the authors, as well as full disclosure of their consulting contracts. We note that pro-net neutrality firm Interactive Corp. is also a Joint Center supporter. But how much each gives and the terms of the grant must be disclosed in any related research. Research from the Joint Center, and all other scholarly and advocacy groups, should clearly and prominently identify their funders and their related political positions on the issues raised within the main body of the paper.
The public deserves better from the folks at the Joint Center.

For an example of the paper’s reception, go to and see the 1/24 online piece entitled “Is Network Neutrality a Myth?”

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We wish the editors and reporters covering telecommunications would follow the money–and ask all the interested parties who foots their bill. They would find–with academics especially–so many financial links as to wonder whether these so-called experts aren’t violating some scholarly code of ethics. Take today’s psuedo scholarly attack on network neutrality by David Farber, Michael Katz and Christopher S. Woo. No where in the piece does it state that both Professors Katz and Yoo have taken money from the cable industry. Such funding led–natch–to industry supportive research pieces. Disclosure of such financial ties is required to be prominently displayed in such a piece, so readers can better place in context what is being said. Super cable monopoly Comcast hired UC Berkeley’s Katz in 2003 to produce research which placed the industry in favorable light. Comcast, of course, opposes network neutrality [I cover the role of Katz and other communications -academics-for -industry hire in my new book, btw]. Professor Yoo worked for the cable lobby NCTA last year to write a net neutrality study as well. Even Davd Farber should have disclosed he has spoken under the banner of the Verizon Foundation at Carnegie Mellon.

The Post’s editors must have asked if contributors have any conflicts? If so, what exactly did Professors Farber, Katz, and Yoo reply? We urge the Post to publish any such submissions. Moreover, the Post op-ed page must now seek response from parties who don’t have a money trail littering their “scholarship.”

Sources: “Study Slams Cooper’s Cable Research.” Multichannel News. 8/26/03

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Commercial Alert’s Work on Stealth Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Getting the FTC to Wake Up

Congratulations to the group Commercial Alert for pushing the Federal Trade Commission to act, even timidly, on one of the most egregious marketing ploys. “Word-of-mouth” marketing uses people–including kids–to push products to friends and others. Such product pushers receive all kinds of compensation, including feeling they are among an “in-crowd.” That’s what companies actually say to these kids. It was Commercial Alert’s petition that got the FTC to admit greater disclosure is required. Such marketing tactics are part of the emerging “360” degree field of “engagement” that advertisers and brands are building. Wherever we go, online and off, we will be the targets of marketing (including what is known as WOM). But at least now, as as a result of the Commercial Alert work, stealth product pushers better fess up. Perhaps we will even see some changes in how the companies engaged in such sorry practices, especially using kids/teens, operate. If not, these companies will find themselves on the wrong side of branding.
Gary Ruskin and his colleagues deserve our thanks.

CDT Works to Undermine the Public Interest in Broadband/ Allies with PFF

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has long served as part of the political support system for the telecom and media industries. While many view CDT as a privacy group, a great deal of what the organization does benefits its corporate supporters—which have been some of the biggest media and data collection companies in the country. They have included Axciom, Doubleclick, Time Warner, AT&T, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and Intel.

Now, CDT has joined forces with one of the key corporate funded groups that has been leading the charge against network neutrality: the Progress and Freedom Foundation. PFF, co-founded by Newt Gingrich, is also supported by numerous corporate media/telecom interests, including Murdoch’s News Corp. (Fox), AT&T, BellSouth, Comcast, Clear Channel, GE/NBC, Google and Microsoft.

Yesterday, the two groups jointly filed amicus briefs in federal courts supporting News Corp./Fox and NBC’s efforts to undermine the ability of the FCC to regulate communications. The TV networks are fighting the FCC’s recent decisions on broadcast indecency. But the CDT/PFF filing wasn’t only about over-turning the FCC’s foolhardy and inappropriate efforts on so-called indecent content. The message CDT and PFF gave to the courts was they should rein in any effort by the FCC to ensure that the public interest be served in the digital media era. The filing claims that convergence of various media, including the Internet, make any policy role for the FCC related to diversity of content a threat to free speech itself. A very convenient argument that must warm the hearts of both CDT’s and PFF’s corporate funders, because they are precisely the companies who wish to avoid having a public interest regulatory regime in broadband.

Missing from the brief is any discussion of the regulatory areas for broadband (including PC, mobile, and digital TV [IPTV] platforms) that will require federal policy, including a key role for the FCC. Among them, ensuring an open, non-discriminatory content distribution policy for the Internet—network neutrality. Other rules that will require FCC action in the broadband era include ensuring “free” and “equal” time for political speech; diversity of content ownership, including by women and persons of color; localism; public service; privacy; and advertising regulation. There will need to be ad safeguards, for example, protecting children from interactive marketing that promotes obesity as well as with prescription drug ads targeting seniors via immersive “one-to-one” media techniques.

CDT and PFF argue that the new media environment provides the public with greater choice, another reason they urge the courts to limit FCC authority. But what’s really happening with digital media is that we are facing a system where the “choices” are being meaningfully reduced by the market. Wherever the public goes, the forces of conglomerate media and advertising will confront them. Consider, for example, News Corp.‘s MySpace now running Fox programming. (It’s interestingly, by the way, that neither CDT nor PFF told the courts that they have a financial relationship with some of the interests involved in the indecency debate).

We have long opposed FCC efforts to “regulate” indecency, including being critical of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (whom we otherwise strongly admire). The indecency effort by the FCC has helped let it become vulnerable to this attack by the media conglomerates, and their supporters, who have a longstanding political agenda aimed at sweeping away all regulation and safeguards. Fox, NBC, Viacom, Disney and the rest want a U.S. media system where they can own as many media outlets as they want, not have to do any public service, nor worry about regulators concerned about threats to privacy and interactive marketing abuses.

The emerging broadband era in the U.S. will see us face further consolidation of ownership of media outlets, including the Internet, as well as an increase in overall commercialization. The cry that Wall Street has for broadband is “monetization.” But our electronic media system must also serve democracy—not just the interests of those who want to make money. Civic participation, public interest civic media, and safeguards from content and services designed to manipulate us must be addressed. There is a role for the FCC in all this. (We shouldn’t throw-out as “bathwater” the potential of our broadband media to serve democracy and a role for the FCC because we are upset about it catering to zealous social conservatives who don’t like some programming).

Finally, shame on CDT for joining up with PFF. PFF is an opponent of the network neutrality policy for the Internet. It has also long opposed any meaningful role for the FCC. But, perhaps that’s the point. If PFF gets it way, its backers–and many of CDT’s–will be free to do as they please, regardless of the consequences to our democracy.

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