Do Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon and Barry Diller (IAC) Know Any Republicans? Upcoming House Floor Vote will Reveal Whether They Have any Bi-Partisan DC Clout

As the COPE (Barton-Rush) anti-Internet bill moves to the House floor for a critical vote, it’s time to ask: can these six giant technology/e-commerce companies deliver a handful of GOP votes? With the Democrats now more likely to support a network neutrality amendment, all it would take to pass would be relatively few Republican members. I can’t believe that the CEO’s of these companies (and their board members) can’t contact what must be a never-ending chain of powerful GOP contacts who owe them big time: their bankers, M&A firms, lawyers, VC’s, and fellow country club members. Hello—Jeff Bezos, Meg Whitman, Eric Schmidt, Barry Diller, Steve Ballmer, and Terry Semel. You have contacts and now’s the time to use them (or perhaps ask to borrow a few names from Intel–now that they have joined in the call for network neutrality).
The little Free Press-inspired “Save the” group has put your DC lobbying efforts to shame. Does the network neutrality “big six” really want to deliver or not? We—and hope everyone else—will be looking closely at the House floor vote. If these six can’t really try to deliver—they are either incompetent politically or are taking a purposeful dive.

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As Fight Against Telco/Cable Net Monopoly Looms for House Floor, the Barton-Rush Bill Should Be Scuttled. More “Scholars” with Undisclosed Financial Connections Back the Telco/Cable PR campaign

Proponents of network neutrality will engage in hand-to-hand political combat next week, as the Barton-Rush broadbanditry bill comes to a vote on the House floor. Led by Rep. Ed Markey, the Democrats have apparently awakened from their slumber on network neutrality. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi now plans to co-sponsor the Markey amendment. Ms. Pelosi, Rep. Boucher and others are seeking a ruling to bring the neutrality amendment for a vote. It is also reported that the Democrats will offer an amendment on what is called “build-out.” This would help redress somewhat the plans of AT&T and Verizon to engage in economic redlining; these giants only desire to initially serve the most affluent customers (leaving low-income and others behind).

A sharp, very public, debate over network neutrality is greatly needed. That’s why we hope everyone will also speak out by sending word to Congress on where you stand on the issue (see Members of Congress need to make it clear. Are they for the handful of cable and phone giants who are engaged in a digital power grab of the Internet in the U.S.? Or will they side with Internet users and the general public?

But the entire Barton-Rush “Telco/Cable Broadband Monopoly Enrichment Act of 2006” has been written to ultimately benefit a few special interests. It’s not really a forward thinking broadband bill. It does nothing to address equitable access by the poor and low income Americans to the Internet; fails to protect online privacy; and undermines local accountability. Yesterday, we covered some of these issues for The Nation and Alternet.

Finally, it appears every day some other “prominent” academic or scholar comes to the aid of the Bells or cable lobby. Yesterday, it was Dr. John Rutledge, a self-described “leading free-market economist” in the U.S. Rutledge dismissed network neutrality as a “contrived issue.” What is contrived is certainly the failure of Dr. Rutledge in his press release to identify the political and financial links he has to the cable and phone lobby. Dr. Rutledge is on the board of the telco/cable backed Progress and Freedom Foundation and the Heartland Institute. The failure of Dr. Rutledge to disclose in his pro Bell/cable release these and other commercial ties illustrates why Congress should pass a “Fess Up, Academics and Nonprofits on the Corporate Dole” consumer protection act.

Google, Microsoft, Amazon et al. Good First Start, But Much More is Needed.

“Don’t Mess With the,” representing many of the commercial Internet companies and other groups, just launched ads in Roll Call and The Hill, two newspapers targeted to Capital Hill. The ads and website are funded by Amazon, eBay, Google, IAC (Barry Diller), Microsoft, and Yahoo!

But this well-heeled “Network Neutrality Coalition” is spending pennies, when they should be pulling out all the stops. The public deserves to know what’s at stake with our broadband future in the U.S—now! The phone and cable industries are buying TV and radio time, using online marketing at major websites (such as and even renting ad space on buses. This should not be just an inside the Beltway game. If Microsoft, Google and the other coalition CEOs are really as concerned about network neutrality as cited yesterday in their testimony, they will `up the ante.’ Or are they really ambivalent about helping to inform the American public about what is at stake—and why safeguards are needed to ensure a more democratic media future.

The Bell’s Snap their Fingers—and Dick Armey Jumps/ Former Majority Leader is Mr. Hypocrisy

Fearful that there is a growing call for Internet safeguards—especially with yesterday’s kick-off of the Save the Internet coalition—the Bells have mobilized their assorted and paid for cronies to do damage control. Flurries of press releases were issued, by such groups as FreedomWorks, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Phoenix Center and the “Hands off the Internet Coalition.” AT&T and Verizon must be feeling desperate—which is a good sign that the new coalition of Left to Right advocates and leading Internet experts are having a real impact.

But it’s time that everyone recognized that free market self-styled emperor Dick Armey has no—well—let’s just say he could audition for one of those X rated movies. In yesterday’s FreedomWorks release, Armey rants that “Net Neutrality allows the government to run all over basic property rights.” Yet, as a leading legislator, Mr. Armey has called for government intervention to ensure an open, competitive and more democratic media environment.

Four years ago, then House Majority Leader Armey worked to enact federal media diversity rules. Armey’s bill would have required the government to force media companies to divest newspapers or TV stations. In a situation that reflects the concerns of the current network neutrality debate, Armey was livid over the media and political power one media company—Belo—had in his district. (Armey blamed Belo for his son’s electoral loss in a bid to replace him.). Armey’s legislation would have statutorily required Belo to sell one of its prime outlets, such as its Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV. Preventing such concentration of media control, Armey told the American Journalism Review, was “an important issue. It goes to the strength of our democracy.” Armey’s spokesperson at the time explained that “In America, the press is responsible for informing the public and providing a forum for free debate … In this case, this particular corporation has almost a stranglehold on Mr. Armey’s constituency in Mr. Armey’s district.”

Now that he has to raise money from private interests, such as the phone companies, perhaps Mr. Armey is too busy to recall his recent public outcry for media safeguards to promote freedom of expression. But the anti-open Internet position of FreedomWorks would give such a “stranglehold” over the flow of digital media to its phone company supporters.

Finally, the shrill cry from Bell supporters reminds us that who pays the piper gets them to sing the tune. The National Black Chamber of Commerce issued a release yesterday opposed to an open Internet. They failed to acknowledge that AT&T (SBC), Bell South, and Verizon are financial supporters of the group. The Hands Off Coalition—backed by AT&T—should rename itself in the spirit of truth in advertising: The `It’s AT&T’s Pipes’ Front-Group.

PS. CDD is a member of the Save the Internet group. Kudos to Free Press and company for organizing it.

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USTA: More Lies Faster: Repetitive Promise Syndrome…And Microsoft Says it will do better Net Neutrality Fight

The United States Telecom Association (USTA), the lobbying arms for AT&T (SBC) and Verizon, is running a blitz of misleading ads—online and on T.V. As Congress prepares to debate the “Save our Internet” issue this week, USTA is scrambling to amplify its message: “Let our members—AT&T and Verizon—control the Internet in the U.S.” Or, as AT&T honcho Ed Whitacre now infamously said, the U.S. Internet should operate as the company’s private “pipes.”

One of USTA’s many front-group lobbying efforts is something it calls “The Future…Faster.” Supposedly a “coalition,” Faster is nothing more than a collection of past promises broken. But it’s a useful reminder about how USTA and its members are never to be trusted. On its website, one can click on a number of categories to learn about how the Bell broadband agenda will help America, and why one should disregard the call for consumer and public interest safeguards. But what’s striking about Faster is that the Telcos are now making the exact same phony promises and claims said to Congress and the public more than ten years ago—to help them win favorable language in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. (So, hey, all you members of Congress who have taken their dough. You better do a fact-check on what the USTA now purports will be a potential public benefit. You are about to buy the digital Brooklyn Bridge for at least the second time).

Faster says supporting its agenda will give “Bring Medical Solutions to All Americans;” that it will “Bring the World of Knowledge to Schools and Educators;” and “More Choice… for Consumers.” These are the exact promises made by USTA, NCTA, and both the GOP and Democratic leadership to the country back in 1996. For example, back in 1994 and testifying before Congress, a Bell witness promised that the country would have a broadband network that would “spur the development of new interactive consumer services in education, entertainment, government, and health care.”

They didn’t deliver then and they don’t intend to do so now. We all know what AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, et al really want: to help their tired old media monopoly business model gain a faster hold over the broadband digital marketplace. That’s the reality. And if we permit that to happen the “Reality” will be harmful to consumers, seniors, educators and everyone else who desires a America that reflects our highest aspirations as a culture. Not some dumbed-down, meter always running, and `we’re data collecting on you,’ AT&T/Verizon/USTA Internet.

By the way, we received a call yesterday from Microsoft. They promised that the company would now be mobilizing more resources to get Congress to pass network neutrality legislation.

Will Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and the others Really Fight for Net Neutrality?

Word from sources in Congress say that the major companies arguing for network neutrality have failed so far to demonstrate they are seriously committed to seeing legislation passed. While the CEO’s from the Bell companies, we were told, glad-handed members of Congress, our leading online companies have been largely MIA. Here we are talking about some of the most powerful online companies, who reach tens of millions daily. Imagine if on its home pages Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft’s MSN urged users to take action and asked them to save the Internet. Congress would be overwhelmed with angry emails and letters. The Bell/cable industry “grass-tops” faux campaign would be seen as a very minor, paid-for, outcry.

But we wonder whether Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! really want to see network neutrality legislation? They must have serious misgivings, since they have done such an incompetent and half-hearted lobbying effort so far. Certainly they are thinking about the downsides of legislation. For today’s call for network neutrality could (and should) lead to other legislative safeguards, such as protecting privacy online. Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! fear that such privacy safeguards would threaten their interactive advertising/data collection digital golden gooses.

Yahoo! and Microsoft also have deals with many of the phone and cable companies. They and other online giants will need favorable access to their broadband lines, network neutrality or not. Perhaps it’s concern over their business relationships that have contributed to their political timidity.

So we ask. Will Google, Yahoo!, Amazon and the others make a serious stand? Did the 27-4 vote in the House Telecom Subcommittee approving the Barton-Rush broadband giveaway serve as a wake-up call? Will we see Bill Gates, Terry Semel, Larry Page/Serge Brin, Jeff Bezos and others make the rounds in D.C.? Will these mega companies unleash a torrent of ads urging Americans to help them keep the Internet an open space? Or will they silently side with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and a few others that want to create a new form of digital divide: those that control the pipes vs. everyone else.

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Earning Digital Dollars and Backing Dictators: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Interactive Advertising in China

As Bill Gates prepares to fete the Chinese President at his home—and as last week’s headlines remind us that the “do no evil” motto of Google is meaningless [“Google defends censorship in China”], we thought it would be useful to focus on a little discussed aspect of the “we will do anything to market in China” tech story. It’s the role which interactive advertising is playing driving companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google to do anything to please the Chinese government; even the censoring of search content and the turning over of personal user data to the police.

Microsoft, in fact, has selected China as its primary location to create the next generation of interactive advertising technologies. adLab, based in Beijing, was launched by Microsoft in January. Its mission is to use its “state-of-the-art” facilities, and “top-notch group of more than 50 researchers” to “incubate advanced technologies …designed to provide advertisers with rich targeting capabilities based on audience intelligence information…” Among the expertise assembled at the Microsoft China lab are researchers expert in “data mining, information retrieval, statistical analysis, artificial intelligence, …and visual computing.” The Beijing facility is working (along with Seattle colleagues) on forty projects or so—including on what they call “social network mining” and “video hyperlink advertising.” These technologies will be used to more precisely target us with personalized advertising. They will give advertisers a rich set of personal information based on the tracking and analyzing of our behavior. Such data in the hands of marketers is bad enough. But it will also be likely turned over to governments, including authoritarian regimes.
By selecting Beijing as the location to help develop the company’s online business future, Microsoft has made a powerful statement about the importance of the China market itself. They—as do Google and Yahoo—see many billions of dollars from the online targeting of billions of Chinese computer users. The three are all competing to dominate the China market. Microsoft even sued Google for stealing one its executives who is setting up its China-based research center.

Bill Gates, Jerry Yang, Eric Schmidt and the other executives should be challenging repressive regimes by refusing to operate in countries where search is censored and information about dissenters has to be turned over to authorities. But these companies see the digital future and it’s about targeted ads—along with new forms of commercial and political surveillance.

The Propaganda Channel and the Net Neutrality Debate

If you haven’t seen the “Pentagon Channel” produced by the Department of Defense, you’re missing a classic—and outrageous–propaganda effort aimed for U.S. audiences. This 24/7 “video news” network, as it calls itself, outshines even Fox News in its fealty to the official U.S. government line about Iraq. But since one of the channel’s star “talents” is Don Rumsfeld himself, it’s not surprising. What is shocking is that the U.S. is producing a channel for domestic use that is clearly propaganda—and should be taken off the many U.S. cable systems and satellite services that carry it.

With a program line-up that includes the daily “Freedom Journal Iraq” and
“Around the Services” (from the Pentagon “NewsCenter-daily…military news from top Defense officials”) to “Inside Afghanistan,” and the “Stallion Report” ( “a bi-weekly news program from Mosul, Iraq”), the Pentagon Channel airs the official view. We are all fighting for “freedom.” We are winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraq people, says one reporter for “Freedom Journal Iraq.” Scenes of “hunting bad guys,” and “missions of good will” are shown (including pictures of renovated schools displaying posters of Disney characters).

Major cable, satellite and telephone companies have given the U.S. government channel free carriage, including Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, Cox, and Echostar. The channel reaches about 12 million cable and satellite viewers; it’s also distributed in the U.S. and around the world on military bases. The channel is working to expand its distribution, including going after space reserved for public access channels (which were created to promote free speech—not governmental PR). This week the channel launched itself as a video and audio podcast via the Internet. Secretary of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld declared that he was “…pleased that we are using video casting and other increasingly important technologies to reach our global audience…”

The Voice of America is prohibited from airing its service in the U.S. The Pentagon Channel should also be similarly banned. We hope the Pentagon Channel will be scrutinized by more media critics and policymakers. Having a taxpayer-backed channel that promotes itself as “news” when it’s really about pushing an Administration’s political agenda should clearly be unacceptable policy.

But—now for the connection with network neutrality. In a world where the big cable and phone companies can dominate the U.S. broadband and TV market—expect more favorable treatment for such official government PR efforts. Whether it’s giving the Department of Defense a helping hand with its propaganda channel or turning over to the NSA and other agencies our personal communications—the big cable/telco broadband monopoly will strive to please officials. That’s where the quid pro quo deal making—let’s us control the network and we will treat you `right,’ is likely to occur. You can be sure that when Ed Whitacre of AT&T charges a Google for using what it considers its “pipes,” it will give the official view–such as the Pentagon Channel–a free, high-speed broadband ride.

To see if your cable service carries the channel, click here. It’s also streamed online.

Why Disney—and other Media Giants—are AWOL on Net Neutrality Fight

Susan Crawford correctly points out that the Walt Disney Company/ABC has done an about-face on network neutrality. Back in 2000, for example, Disney was the leading commercial media company fighting the AOL Time Warner merger over the network neutrality issue. Why the change? It’s because Disney and the other TV networks understand that unless they play ball with the cable and telephone industry their futures are threatened.

Don’t be fooled by Disney/ABC’s announcement that it will run a few of their programs online. Disney, CBS, NBC and the others recognize that now, thanks to Michael Powell and Kevin Martin of the FCC, cable and telephone networks control the future of the TV/broadband business. All of TV will be interactive, including advertising. Only by being securely inside the cable/telco pipe can a media company guarantee that it can prosper. That means doing whatever it takes to secure favorable treatment by Comcast, Verizon, and others. That’s why Disney is silent on network neutrality safeguards. They have been told–in so many words–that if they support safeguards their programing will suffer. More importantly, if Disney and the others play “ball” they will get all kinds of financial rewards–including favorable placement for video-on-demand, more money for programming, and likely enhanced digital distrubution.

Why be nice to the cable and telcos in our seemingly open and competitive broadband universe? It’s becase their now monopoly
pipes will be the place that collects the data, tracks the viewer/user/ and targets us with personalized content. It will have the intelligence to know whether we are in the home or are connected via a mobile device.

Content may be king. But the “closed” access model of broadband given to us by the FCC (and to be likely ratified by Congress soon) has also given those that control the conduit a sizeable share of the “throne.” Everyone in show-biz knows that broadband and TV are merging. That’s where the big bucks will be. The phone and cable industry have this market sewn up. Even Mickey Mouse knows to fear a digital monopoly when it sees one.

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Get Your Congressional Commerce Committee: On Sale Now—Cheap!

With the lopsided vote against Internet freedom last week in the House Telecom and Internet Subcommittee, we decided to ask the folks at the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) to pull together a list of campaign contributions given to committee members. So here’s a link to an Excel spread sheet [which will download] that will show you the cable/telco contributions to both the full House and Senate Commerce committees. It tracks contributions from just these two industries from the last Congress (108th) to the current 109th. Dates for the 108th are from Jan. 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2004. For the 109th, it’s based on CRP’s most recent acquisition of data, downloaded on Mar. 13, 2006 (but doesn’t include contributions for March itself).
Money from cable and telephone companies and their lobbying associations are being spread around like chocolate candies given to kids at Easter/Passover. It’s no wonder–sadly–that the American public can’t expect any broadband legislation which would put their interests above our crass, cash-dispensing, phone and cable monopolies. To find the list of top contributors to your favorite member, just go to CRP. Then look again at your phone and cable bills. You know where the money is going.

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