How green is the astroturf over there?

A recent article in Fierce Telecom titled "Special access, end of PSTN no secret to wireline marketplace" , written by Bruce Mehlman was a response to an article written by Bruce Kushnick, who is no friend of the incumbent telephone companies, for sure.

But who is Bruce Mehlman and the organization he co-founded, the "Internet Innovation Alliance"? Good question.

The tone of the article would imply that they're an advocacy group for broadband by any means necessary – they want speed and don't care under what terms and conditions it's available, as long as it's "cheap".  Seems fair and innocent enough, from the "cheap, fast, good, pick two" – they chose cheap and fast. I disagree with this strategy, but more power to them.

But wait – what they're advocating is exactly what AT&T is trying to carry out with SB636 in Michigan. I can't help but think that's a bit odd, so I dig a bit to see what the story is with this "Internet Innovation Alliance" that I've never heard of before. What I found was interesting.

With some digging, I found their list of members.

I'll reproduce it here:

 

1 Economy Incorported Donor Supported by AT&T and Verizon
American Council of the Blind Donor AT&T and Verizon are major sponsors of their event.
The American Conservative Union Ideological Not specifically related to AT&T. Generally supports elimination of government regulations.
Applied Optoelectronics Supplier Supplier for AT&T and Verizon's FTTP products
Alcatel-Lucent Supplier/Common Origins One of AT&T's largest suppliers. Lucent was a spinoff of Bell Labs, which was at one time AT&T.
Americans for Tax Reform Ideological Not specifically related to AT&T. Generally supports elimination of government regulations.
AT&T Self The phone company. The people the organization speaks highly of in the op-ed.
B-Tech Supplier AT&T Supplier – AT&T's logo is right on their front page.
Berry Test Sets Supplier AT&T Supplier – Ironically provides premier test equipment for that "obsolete network" that they're trying to get rid of. Their techs carry this tool a lot.
Communications Technology Solutions / CBM of America Supplier AT&T Vendor
Ciena Supplier AT&T Vendor
Condux Supplier AT&T Vendor
CompTIA Indeterminate Not specifically related to AT&T, but AT&T is a large sponsor of theirs.
Connected Nation  AT&T related AstroTurf group Astroturf group heavily funded by AT&T. Even performs research for AT&T.
Corning Supplier Major AT&T Supplier of Fiber Optic Cable
United States Cattleman's Association Indeterminate, likely donor The site doesn't mention sponsors at all, but the cattlemen's association goes out of its way to file FCC comments all the time in support of various AT&T initiatives.
FiberControl Indeterminate Probably an AT&T supplier. Very niche equipment supplier.
GoFoton Supplier CTO worked at AT&T for 30 years, likely an AT&T supplier as well.
National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry Indeterminate, likely donor Outspoken advocate of AT&T's policies. Major donors not mentioned on their homepage.
American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance Indeterminate, likely a front group AHGA and AHF Privacy Policy- AHGA and AHF will not disclose any information whatsoever about their members,
customers, or supporters to any other parties under any circumstances. – Advocate of AT&T policies in the past.
Hispanic Telecommunications and Technology Partnership Indeterminate, likely a front group Promotes many AT&T initiatives, ties to the NTCA and USTA. All positions seem to be related to AT&T initiatives.
Hispanic Leadership Fund Indeterminate, likely ideological Unknown, no public webpage, no known policy statements.
Independent Technologies Inc Supplier Supplier, ironically, of equipment for AT&T's "Obsolete" POTS/TDM network.
Independent Women's Forum Donor/Ideological AT&T is a donor to the IWF.  Generally supports elimination of government regulations.
Japanese American Citizens League Donor "Website made possible by the generous sponsorship of AT&T" (search in page for that string)
LCLAA Trade Union Trade Union group (Trade unions that deal with AT&T tend to support AT&T policy in exchange for promises to include their laborers in new initiatives)
LULAC
Donor/Ideological
AT&T is part of their "Corporate Alliance"
Intertribal Agriculture Council  Likely Donor Recently, the Intertribal Agricultural Council has been involved in many non-agricultural things, such as the AT&T and T-Mobile merger, and the Sirius XM merger. Why? Who knows.
MetroTel Corp  Supplier AT&T Supplier
Minerva Networks Potential Supplier Minerva sells IPTV middleware that controls IPTV set top boxes. AT&T uses Microsoft MediaRoom, but given that Microsoft has no interest in continuing that line, I suspect AT&T is working with Minerva at this point to replace MediaRoom.
National Assocation for Female Executives  Likely Donor Both NAFE and AT&T pat each other on the back a lot.
National Association of Neighborhoods  Likely Donor NAH has spoken heavily in favor of previous AT&T initiatives.
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation AT&T and CWA staff on board of directors
National Health IT Collaborative for the underserved Likely Donor They do not appear to have made any public statements in favor of AT&T initiatives, and appear to be otherwise legitimate.
National Black Chamber of Commerce Donor The AT&T Foundation has donated thousands to this group, if not more.
National Puerto Rico Coalition Donor AT&T is a primary sponsor.
National Spinal Cord Injury Association Likely Donor They do not appear to have made any public statements in favor of AT&T initiatives, and appear to be otherwise legitimate.
OASIS Institute Donor AT&T donated half a million dollars to this group.
National Utility Contractors Association Supplier Consortium of AT&T suppliers
Prysmian Cables and System Supplier Manufacturer of fiber optic cable
Small Business Entrepreneurship Council Ideological Possibly supported by AT&T, definitely ideologically opposed to government regulation.
Suimitomo Lightwave Supplier Fiber optic manufacturer
Sheyenne Dakota, Inc Likely Supplier They manufacturer wiring harnesses.
SeniorNet Donor AT&T and Verizon are sponsors.
SNC Manufacturing Supplier AT&T supplier of high voltage isolation equipment
Suttle Supplier Supplier of various telecommunications cabling and connectors. (Many punchdown blocks are made by Suttle)
Telesync Supplier Ironically, most of their products are for those old, evil POTS services they're trying to get rid of.
TechAmerica Consortium AT&T is a member
USIIA Consortium AT&T is involved with this group. Verizon has an employee on the board of directors. They have a history of speaking in favor of all AT&T initiatives, all the way back to the bell south merger.
Women Impacting Public Policy AT&T employees part of advisory board / Ideological Corporate Advisory Board has AT&T (and Comcast, who does not oppose these laws) members. Several.  Generally supports elimination of government regulations.
Asian Women in Business  Donor AT&T heavily sponsored this group

Now, to be clear, I don't think that taking a single dollar of AT&T's money taints you. But when you're part of a public policy group that is unrelated to your mission (What does this have to do with Indian agriculture, or cattlemen?), and you take money from AT&T, your opinion may be not as independent as you make it sound.

The thing with nonprofits is, they don't have an inherent means of self support. They rely on donors. If you get a big donor that seems awesome at first, it opens a lot of doors for you. When they ask for your support, and it doesn't seem completely unreasonable (just sign your name to this, it's going to pass anyway and we could really use your help, as we've helped you in the past) – few organizations can afford to say no, especially if it doesn't harm their constituency directly or go against their stated goals. It puts them in the unenviable position of either giving a large donor a hand over something inconsequential to their members/beneficiaries/whatever, or taking an unnecessary stand to say "This is tangential to our mission" and risk a pay cut.

6 thoughts on “How green is the astroturf over there?”

  1. Glad to know we have such an upstanding group of people cheerleading AT&T's efforts to "upgrade" phone and broadband networks.

    I have my doubts as to how much good it'll do, but for whatever it's worth, I made a public comment to the FCC regarding all of this.

    While they're probably not likely to listen to anyone telling them to call it off entirely, they may listen to people asking for reasonable things unappealing enough for AT&T to just scrap the idea; support for modems (anything from point of sale terminals to fire alarms to security systems use them), an equal access equivalent, POTS grade reliability for 911, etc. If you feel like making some noise to regulators about this, here's the proceeding page –

    http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?name=14-35

    1. Awesome!

      FYI a modified version of 636 passed the house today. The uproar worked. It got the bill stalled so hard AT&T had to make major concessions to get it through. I will summarize it in a post in the next few days.

      I'd rather not have had the law at all but this is something competitors and hopefully the public can live with.

      1. I gave your comment some mojo in my latest post. Hopefully others comment on this too, and the IP transition can be made into a good, pro-consumer thing. *fingers crossed*

  2. Awesome, thanks! It'll be good to get some attention to what's going on here. Yesterday's filing from Earthlink makes it look like they're already raising their eyebrows at what this would do to the wholesale market;

    http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comment/view?id=6017606225

    Hopefully, this is just the beginning. Level3/CBeyond/TW/Integra looked very interested in AT&T's petition. If there's one thing I have right now, it's definitely crossed fingers!

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