Heart [less] Institute: Part of the Telecom/Cable Lobby Support System

The Heartland Institute is one of the never-ending series of groups that attempt to place the interests of big phone and cable monopolies before those of the average American. Ideology shapes the findings of this group. If it had a MySpace page, its “friends” would include the Progress and Freedom Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and the Pacific Research Foundation. They are a well-connected and networked web of organizations used to advance the narrow, monopoly-building agendas of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and a few others.

Now with a yearly budget in the millions, the Heartland Institute is keeping up a steady attack on the public interest campaign to restore online freedom [net neutrality] and broadband competition for the U.S. Internet. Take its most recent IT&T newsletter [no. Not named after the infamous super-conglomerate and scandalous company. It stands for Info Tech & Telecom News. But we think Heartland’s Freud must have slipped a lot when it chose that acronym]. In the September 2006 issue of IT&T, managing editor Steven Titch defends the upcoming mega-merger between AT&T (formerly SBC) and BellSouth. “This merger should be allowed to proceed,” he writes, because AT&T will provide “new investment and a growth strategy.” He attempts to make the case that poor BellSouth needs a government-approved mega-buyout to save its declining revenues. But Heartland’s analysis is distorted, designed to help out AT&T. So ignored, for example, is what Bell South told the SEC—and investors– in its 2005 10K report (before the pending merger helped shaped what it now claims). “We are a Fortune 100 company with annual revenues of over $20 billion. Our core business is wireline communications and our largest customer segment is the retail consumer. We have interests in wireless communications through our ownership of approximately 40% of Cingular Wireless (Cingular), the nation’s largest wireless company based on number of customers. We also operate one of the largest directory advertising businesses in the United States. We have assets of approximately $60 billion and employ almost 63,000 individuals…During 2004, we realigned our assets towards domestic wireless and increased investment in broadband to better position the company for the future. Specifically, our wireless joint venture, Cingular Wireless, purchased AT&T Wireless in October 2004, causing Cingular to become the largest wireless company in the United States and increasing the percentage of our revenue from wireless operations on a pro forma basis to approximately 40%. To further this realignment in strategy, we sold our Latin American operations to Telefónica Móviles in transactions that closed in late 2004 and early 2005…. As use of the Internet grows and as corporate data applications increase in sophistication and scope, the market for broadband and data services is expanding and evolving. BellSouth will continue to expand its capabilities in order to maintain a leadership position in the broadband and data communications market. Investment in service infrastructure is strategically managed to enable delivery of services offering increasing capacity and functionality. In parallel, we continue to use new advances in digital technology to bolster the broadband capabilities of our entire network. The emergence of high-performance broadband and digital infrastructure offers the ability to use these networks for real-time communications including voice and video using various technologies such as softswitches (software-based switching platforms) and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).”

Doesn’t sound like a corporate version of the Titanic to me.

What Heartland and its big telecom-supported “think tank” minions want is a system where the public has no rights. An AT&T—in Heartland’s view—should be able to do what it wishes, regardless of the costs to our democratic society. Journalists and consumers beware. Heartland has constructed an artificial view of the world based on fantasy spun from corporate lobbyist’ playbooks.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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