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|
|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.|
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)|
|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.