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Boston Globe Columnist Pushes for Broadband Dereg; Fails to Disclose He’s On Time Warner Cable’s Board

Phillip Dampier August 26, 2015 Astroturf, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments
Broadband for America, the latest front group from big corporate telecom interests

Broadband for America is a front group funded by the telecom industry.

The Boston Globe has asked an industry-funded columnist to stop writing about broadband issues because he failed to disclose his conflicts of interest.

John E. Sununu is a former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire and the son of former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu. Since leaving office, he has earned a significant sum representing the interests of large telecom companies while assisting the Republican presidential primary campaign of Ohio Governor John Kasich. He has used his column in the influential newspaper to help both, without any disclosure to readers he has direct financial and personal conflicts of interest.

Media Matters criticized the paper after it allowed the former Republican senator to complain about the “unnecessary regulation of the internet” without disclosing he has been paid over $750,000 by corporate interests.

Sununu: Co-shill

Sununu: “Honorary co-chair”

In an August 17 column, Sununu attacked the Obama administration for reaching “ever deeper into the economy, pursuing expensive and unnecessary regulation of the Internet, carbon emissions, and even car loans.”

The editors of the Globe failed to tell readers Sununu has a dog in the fight over broadband regulation, serving as a board member for Time Warner Cable and a paid “honorary co-chair” for Broadband for America. As Stop the Cap! first reported in 2009 in an extensive two-part expose, almost every member of Broadband for America is either a cable or phone company, a lobbyist for the telecom industry, an equipment supplier relying on the industry to stay in business, or a non-profit group that receives direct financial contributions from cable and phone companies.

Sununu also failed to mention he serves as the chair of John Kasich’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire when he wrote a column on June 22 claiming Donald Trump was “running a race where both the chance of winning and the risk of losing are zero.”

The lack of proper disclosure of conflicts of interest is not limited to the Globe. Shills for AT&T’s interests routinely appear in “guest editorials” in newspapers across AT&T’s service areas. Newspapers rarely disclose the authors have direct financial ties to AT&T, appearing to the uninformed as “independent voices.”

Dan Kennedy, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, wrote that Globe Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg stated “Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board.” Clegg reaffirmed that the Globe is “posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines” to provide “more transparency.”

One down, countless more to go.

California Court Tosses Byron Allen’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Comcast, TWC

Allen

Allen

Citing tissue-thin evidence to prove the allegation Comcast and Time Warner Cable conspired to racially discriminate against minority-owned cable channels, a California judge dismissed a $20 billion lawsuit brought by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks.

Allen accused Comcast and Time Warner Cable of creating minority interest cable networks that were actually owned by white ex-cable executives and hedge fund operators. Allen charged Comcast with seeking to pass the minority networks off as fulfillment of a diversity agreement Comcast had with federal officials as a condition of approving the 2010 merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal.

Allen also claimed Comcast “brazenly stated that it does not want to create any more black billionaires, such as Bob Johnson, the African-American founder of Black Entertainment Television.” Allen also referred to Sharpton as “Comcast’s least expensive negro.”

Allen widened the list of defendants to include several minority groups that have close ties to Comcast, including Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, the NAACP, and the Urban League. All of the named defendants are regular promoters of Comcast’s ventures and business interests in letters to regulators.

U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. found Allen’s case less than compelling and dismissed it outright, ruling it lacked enough verifiable facts to show his court has jurisdiction over the defendants and lacked sufficient evidence to prove liability.

The ruling did not seem to bother Allen much.

“Knowing that our lawsuit helped the FCC and the DOJ deny Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable is already a big win for us,” said Allen in a statement. “We are going to immediately appeal this decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals who I believe will deliver us a favorable decision.”

Comcast and the other defendants called the lawsuit offensive, frivolous and outlandish.

Comcast Messing Around With MSNBC Again; Major Program Shifts Help Comcast’s Politics

Phillip Dampier July 30, 2015 Astroturf, Editorial & Site News 3 Comments
Phillip "A Shakeup in Comcastland" Dampier

Phillip “A Shakeup in Comcastland” Dampier

Morale at MSNBC is reported to be very low this week as Comcast/NBC imposes some major programming changes that don’t seem to make much sense.

The cancellation of The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz, has proved to be the most controversial, sparking a protest from a presidential candidate and new questions about how much influence Comcast brings to bear on how the news is reported.

Although never a ratings king, Schultz’s pro-labor, very anti-TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership — the latest controversial trade agreement) views, along with his harangues against executive pay and wealth inequality run contrary to the business agenda of parent company Comcast. While many other MSNBC meh-rated shows survived the culling, Schultz is out, along with The Cycle and Now with Alex Wagner.

Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders is not happy:

We live in a time when much of the corporate media regards politics as a baseball game or a soap opera. Ed Schultz has treated the American people with respect by focusing on the most important issues impacting their lives. He has talked about income and wealth inequality, high unemployment, low wages, our disastrous trade politics and racism in America.

I am very disappointed that Comcast chose to remove Ed Schultz from its lineup. We need more people who talk about the real issues facing our country, not fewer.

At a time when a handful of large, multi-national corporations own our major media outlets, I hope they will allow voices to be heard from those who dissent from the corporate agenda.

Not very likely.

Morning Joe: Mika Brzezinski (L), Joe Scarborough (C), Willie Geist (L)

Morning Joe: Mika Brzezinski (L), Joe Scarborough (C), Willie Geist (L)

The latest MSNBC remake will leave bottom-rated shows unscathed —  like Morning Joe, an always frustrating viewing experience featuring mercurial, long-winded and very thin-skinned Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, alternating in whiplash fashion between the deferential “don’t set Joe off”-verbally filibustered co-host and the staunch defender of women’s rights and Barack Obama (most notably when Joe is not there.)

Comcast’s best friends make regular appearances as paid “analysts” and “talent.” Consider the irritatingly frequent appearances of irrelevant Harold Ford, Jr., friend of big business and co-chair of the corporate sock puppet group Broadband for America, part funded by Comcast, or the Rev. Al Sharpton, who writes letters in favor of whatever Comcast business deal is before regulators.

If MSNBC did a sober ratings review, allowing Sharpton’s teleprompter-dependent show PoliticsNation, which couldn’t draw flies, to stay on the schedule is inexplicable. Then there is yesterday’s news regular Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, former governor of Pennsylvania, former almost everything… but today Comcast’s BFF. While picking up a check serving as a guest political hack on various MSNBC shows, in his spare time he penned letters supporting Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

opinionMSNBC Fossil Chris Matthews is still there as well, like a permanent scar. He got his start in 1997 on CNBC and MSNBC obsessing about Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, remained tolerant if not friendly to the Bush Administration during the “war years,” until he got a “thrill up his leg” for Barack Obama during the 2008 election. He loves politics but knows who butters his bread.

MSNBC’s biggest ratings came from Keith Olbermann, who left the network in a huffy dispute with his boss Phil Griffin. Rumors are circulating wildly this week he’ll be asked back to MSNBC now that his sports gig with ESPN has ended. But Olbermann was also willing to take shots at the corporation that paid him, something not likely to change if he returned to Comcastland. The dealbreaker may turn out to be his nemesis Griffin is still there.

msnbcMSNBC brass suggest the changes are to enhance the network’s “straight reporting” during the day and leave outspoken opinion hosts unscathed in the evening. To show that, MSNBC will present viewers the disgraced former host of the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams (now exiled to doing special reports for cable news) and Chuck Todd, who depends on good relations with politicians to guarantee their accessibility and appearance on the always predictable Sunday morning talking point time-waster Meet the Press.

In short, MSNBC really means it when they call themselves “The Place for Politics.” Except most Americans are now tired of politics, which does not bode well for improved ratings. But then Comcast doesn’t mind a television food fight between Donald Trump vs. Everyone or disputes over Planned Parenthood or police violence, because that is unlikely to cross into the risky territory of discussing corporate influence on the media or inconvenient stories about media consolidation. You’ll find those stories on PBS from Bill Moyers.

CNBC cheerleads big corporate deals all day long, but when is the last time you heard a skeptical news story about cable mergers and network acquisitions? When is big too big?

Quid Pro Quo: Boys & Girls Club That Supported Comcast/TWC Merger Gets $8 Million from Comcast CEO

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to construct the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

After sending 25 letters of support for the Comcast-TWC merger, the Boys & Girls Club is getting $8 million to build the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club in Germantown, Penn. (Roberts is the founder of Comcast.)

One of Comcast’s most enthusiastic supporters for its (failed) merger deal with Time Warner Cable has just received a multi-million dollar donation from Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Germantown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia.

The Boys & Girls Club and its various chapters pelted state and federal regulators with letters supporting Comcast at a time when the company was seeking approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Just a few weeks after the merger left the headlines, Comcast has announced it will spearhead a $40 million campaign to renovate six clubs in the region. Senior executive vice president David Cohen will serve as campaign chair.

An $8 million contribution from Comcast’s CEO and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation will cover much of the construction costs for the Germantown facility, which the non-profit group will name the Ralph J. Roberts Boys & Girls Club, in honor of Comcast’s founder.

For much of the 14 months the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger was being reviewed by regulators, Comcast repeatedly name-dropped the non-profit as a supporter of the transaction. The group’s various chapters sent not less than 25 letters of support for the deal:

“We believe that a company as committed to community service as Comcast deserves our support and our gratitude,” wrote Joseph and Lisabeth Marziello, the CEOs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, in a letter to the FCC. “We are confident that if Comcast extends its footprint into the areas now served by Time Warner Cable, nonprofit agencies in those communities will reap the benefits.”

Asking nonprofit groups to write letters of support is “good politics” for Comcast, said Free Press’ Matt Wood, because it gives the merger a “public-interest veneer.”

Pennsylvania’s Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) went out of their way to mention the group in a letter to FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler:

We have seen firsthand Comcast’s record as an outstanding corporate citizen. Comcast assists 1,200 non-profits through its foundation, serves hundreds of thousands of young people through the Boys and Girls Club of America, and has invested $57 million in training for workers to keep them competitive in today’s economy.

Lost in the millions of dollars now changing hands was the impact of the proposed merger on consumers, including the kids that use the Boys & Girls Club facilities. Comcast has raised prices on its broadband service repeatedly and made participating in its Internet Essentials discount program too cumbersome for many income-challenged residents to participate. But the Boys & Girls Club came out ahead.

Stop the Cap! continues to urge our readers to consider donating only to non-profits that focus on their mission, not on quid pro quo back-scratching that works against the best interests of the very people who give their time and money to non-profits. It’s clear the Boys & Girls Club is already getting plenty of help from Comcast. They don’t need yours.

Anti Net Neutrality Sock Puppet Group Questioned About Identity Theft; Did They Send Phony Letters to Congress?

Phil Kerpen with Glenn Beck

Phil Kerpen with Glenn Beck in 2009

A conservative pro-business group allied with the telecom industry run by a former top aide for the Koch Brothers is in the middle of a growing scandal over a flood of allegedly phony, identically worded messages opposing Net Neutrality sent to members of Congress.

Politico today reported Phil Kerpen’s group – American Commitment – claimed it had easily found a half-million Americans opposed to the Obama Administration’s support for Net Neutrality and helped funnel 1.6 million messages from them to members of the House and Senate.

But suspicious members of Congress quickly determined that many of the messages originated from constituents who had no memory of sending them and a firm hired to help process incoming e-mail for members of Congress warned many of the messages originated from questionable email addresses and “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.”

The content of many of the emails was exactly the same, with a variant paragraph inserted in the middle opposing Net Neutrality for different reasons, all urging Congress to defund the Federal Communications Commission to prevent the agency from enforcing its new Net Neutrality policies.

When Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) noticed the majority of the anti Net Neutrality messages came from constituents that have never written her before, she quickly reached out to the senders to respond to their concerns. A few replied they had never signed up to send emails criticizing Net Neutrality. Lockheed Martin, which manages many of the email messages resulting from constituents clicking the “Contact Me” button on lawmakers’ websites, notified Congress they were suspicious about the authenticity of the emails as well, and had configured a filter to begin weeding them out.

americancommitment

American Commitment, which maintains close ties to the Koch Brothers, characterizes Net Neutrality as an “Obama Internet Takeover.”

“The idea that an outside group could use consumer data to impersonate constituents suggests an attempt to hijack the important feedback members of Congress need to truly represent their districts,” Speier said in a statement. “This is identity theft, but instead of impersonating for financial gain, the originators of this theft are striking at the heart of our representative democracy.”

Kerpen maintains close ties to several Koch Brother-funded, pro-corporate astroturf groups. His former work opposing Net Neutrality with Americans for Prosperity, almost entirely funded by Koch Industries, mirrors his continued opposition today.

As early as 2009, Stop the Cap! tangled with Kerpen and Americans for Prosperity after Kerpen appeared on Glenn Beck’s program attacking Net Neutrality. Kerpen nodded in agreement as Beck offered that Net Neutrality represented a joint Marxist and Maoist plot to take over the Internet on behalf of the Obama Administration. Stop the Cap! has repeatedly asked Americans for Prosperity to disclose their donor list, but Kerpen has consistently refused, even after the Sunlight Foundation detailed ties the group maintains with other Koch efforts.

Kerpen's group pre-wrote most of the letters it sent to the FCC. A writer could select one of several variants where an additional paragraph would appear at the point indicated expressing one of several views across the political spectrum. Those were pre-written as well.

Kerpen’s group pre-wrote most of the letters it sent to the FCC. A writer was offered a variant where an extra paragraph would appear at the point indicated expressing one of several views across the political spectrum. Those were pre-written as well.

In his new position at American Commitment, Kerpen’s group generated the majority of responses received during the FCC’s second round accepting comments about Net Neutrality. To evade Congress’ ability to sniff out a form letter writing campaign, American Commitment went over the top, designing its form letters with at least 30 different comment variants, many offering wildly different reasons why Net Neutrality was bad for America. When the final letter was created, it appeared original until groups like the Sunlight Foundation discovered nearly exact copies of the different variants ostensibly coming from different writers.

For example, Joe Smith could oppose Net Neutrality because it violates personal freedom — a common conservative view and Marsha Smith could oppose it because it would hurt small co-ops and municipal providers — likely a left-leaning view, but both letters were pre-written by Kerpen’s group. One telltale sign of Kerpen’s involvement is his relentless personal loathing of Robert McChesney, who helped found the consumer group Free Press. Kerpen can’t help himself routinely, almost reflexively accusing McChesney of being a Marxist, extreme leftist, or outright communist. His personal views show up in one of American Commitment’s letter variants:

The ideological leader of the angry liberals calling for you to reduce the Internet to a public utility is Robert McChesney, the avowed Marxist founder of the socialist group Free Press. In an interview with SocialistProject.ca, McChesney said: “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility…At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.” In a country of over 300 million people, even an extremist like McChesney can find, perhaps, millions of followers. But you should know better than to listen to them.

Politico asked Kerpen about the matter and he denied impersonating the alleged letter writers and suggested some other group borrowed American Commitment’s idea and potentially ran too far with it.

“We’re aware that other groups used identical language in their campaigns and we cannot speak to those efforts,” Kerpen said. “We verified our data through postal address verification and follow up phone calls. We stand by our campaign and Congress should work to stop President [Barack] Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet at the request of these constituents.”

Kerpen also continued his refusal to disclose what corporations are paying to keep the lights on at American Commitment. No matter, the Sunlight Foundation triangulated donor data and discovered much of the money comes from Koch-affiliated political organizations. Another significant donor is the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the nation’s biggest cable lobbyist and fierce Net Neutrality opponent.

“Free State Foundation” Sock Puppetry: Big Telecom Front Group Hosts Net Neutrality Bashing Session

Walden

Walden

When a group advocating broad-based deregulation and less government suddenly takes a laser-focused, almost obsessive interest in a subject like Internet Net Neutrality, it rarely happens for free.

Randolph May’s Free State Foundation claims to be a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank to promote the free market, limited government, and rule of law principles. But in fact it primarily promotes the corporate interests of some of the group’s biggest financial backers, which include the wireless and cable industry.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), no stranger to big checks from cable companies himself, was in friendly territory at the group’s annual Telecom Policy Conference, a largely consumer-free affair, where he served as keynote speaker. Walden used the occasion to announce a solution to the Net Neutrality problem — defunding the FCC sufficiently to make sure it can never enforce the policy.

Walden, ignoring four million Americans who submitted comments almost entirely in favor of Net Neutrality, said the idea of the FCC overseeing an open and free Internet represented “regulatory overreach that will hurt consumers.”

Big Telecom Funded

Big Telecom Funded

Walden serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Walden told the audience he will be spending his time in Congress taking a hard look at the FCC, its budget request, and its policies after Net Neutrality became official FCC policy. Walden’s plans to punish the agency include a limit on FCC appropriations, making enforcement of Net Neutrality more difficult, if not impossible. Longer term, he hopes to bleed the agency dry by depriving it of resources to manage its regulatory mandate.

Walden’s third largest contributor is Comcast. He also receives significant financial support from the American Cable Association and Cox Cable. He spoke to a group that depends heavily on contributions from the same telecom industry Walden’s campaign coffer does.

According to tax filings by two cable and wireless lobbying groups, the Free State Foundation has cashed almost a half a million dollars in checks written by the groups in the last five years. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) paid FSF $280,000. The wireless lobby, represented by CTIA-The Wireless Association, managed $213,000 in contributions. These two groups are likely among FSF’s most substantial donors.

In 2012, Free State Foundation reported a total of $797,500 in contributions. After Stop the Cap! and other groups began reporting on the connection between the Free State Foundation’s agenda and its Big Telecom sponsors, the group began hiding its donor list. That earned FSF an “F” for donor transparency by PCWorld.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Free State Foundation Seventh Annual Telecom Policy Conference March 2015.mp4

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) delivered the keynote address at the 7th Annual Telecom Policy Conference of the Free State Foundation. Despite receiving nearly a half million dollars in contributions from the cable and wireless lobbies, the group did not think to invest in a tripod to keep the camera steady. (38:42)

Lawsuit Plaintiff Byron Allen: Comcast Uses ‘Least Expensive Negro’ Al Sharpton to Cover Up Discrimination

Allen

Allen: Comcast thinks “Give Sharpton $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.”

A $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of black-owned media companies has uncovered alleged ties between executives of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and public officials who have allegedly helped cover up cable industry discrimination, price-fixing, collusion, and illegal payoffs.

Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, in a blitz of eyebrow-raising interviews, accuses the two cable giants of putting minority-owned channels in the back of the bus, while falsely claiming black celebrities are the owners of minority networks that are actually controlled by former Comcast executives and private equity firms.

“Comcast has, in essence, created a ‘Jim Crow’ process with respect to licensing channels from 100 percent African American–owned media,” the suit reads, according to The Huffington Post. “Comcast has reserved a few spaces for 100 percent African American–owned media in the ‘back of the bus’ while the rest of the bus is occupied by white-owned media companies.”

The lawsuit, filed against Time Warner Cable, Comcast, the Urban League, the NAACP, former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, claims the defendants are taking payoffs from the two cable giants and colluding to promote their business agendas and give minority support to their mergers and acquisitions.

“The industry spends about $50 billion a year licensing cable networks in which 100 percent African American-owned media receives less than $3 million per year in revenue from that $50 billion stream of money that is spent to acquire content,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, many African-American civil rights organizations would immediately raise a ruckus over the imbalance, but Allen alleges Comcast and Time Warner Cable have bought their silence, and in the case of Al Sharpton, his loyalty and support.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

Byron Allen accuses Comcast of locking out 100% black-owned networks.

“Instead of spending real money with real, 100 percent African American-owned media, it is easier to give [Sharpton] $50,000 to give them a cover,” he said. “‘Give [Sharpton] $50,000 and a bucket of chicken and we’re good.'”

Allen called Sharpton the “least expensive negro” Comcast could find, and rewarded his loyalty with a $750,000 annual salary hosting a barely watched nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC.

“Why is Sharpton on TV every night on MSNBC? Because he endorsed Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal,” Allen said. “He signed the memorandum of understanding back in 2010. He endorsed the merger. Next thing you know we’re watching him on television trying to form a sentence. Every night we have the privilege of watching adult illiteracy.”

Attwell-Baker is a defendant for her highly visible warp speed trip through D.C.’s revolving door, as the former Republican FCC commissioner seemed to be writing her resignation letter seconds after voting in favor of the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, quickly accepting a high paid lobbying job with the cable company.

“President Obama promised us transparency, hope, and change,” he said. “And what happened in the Obama administration is former commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the merger of Comcast NBCU and then 90 days later took a much higher paying job with Comcast after granting them the merger. That was betraying the public’s trust as a public service.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/HuffPost Byron Allen 2-27-15.mp4

Watch the HuffPost Live interview with Byron Allen, who reveals who really owns the minority channels Comcast brags about. (7:37)

“President Obama has been bought and paid for. He has taken donations from Comcast. Comcast is his biggest contributor,” he added. “AT&T is one of his biggest contributors. Listen, Obama, your own FTC is investigating AT&T for throttling. How can you even consider them to buy DirectTV when you’re suing them? Is it because you took donations? Yes, Obama. Don’t even think about letting them merge until they settle this lawsuit and that lawsuit.”

Sharpton

Sharpton, in addition to being a regular supporter of Comcast’s various business agendas, also hosts a nightly show on Comcast-owned MSNBC, for which he is paid $750,000 a year.

“AT&T spent more money on Al Sharpton’s birthday party than they have on 100 percent African-American owned media combined,” Allen said. “He (Sharpton) should return the money because AT&T doesn’t even celebrate Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday. The employees there take it as a sick day.”

Apart from Allen’s inflammatory appearances on cable news, his lawsuit does bring to light several important new facts about Comcast’s claims it supports minority-owned channels. Allen’s lawsuit alleges many of those channels are actually secretly owned and controlled by former Comcast executives, private equity firms, and Wall Street banks.

  • Aspire is controlled by Leo Hindery and Leo Hindery is not black. They don’t pay Aspire any subscription fees. Aspire is free,” said Allen.
  • “Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs’ network Revolt TV is controlled by a private equity firm called Highbridge Capital. The person who runs Highbridge Capital is a former Comcast executive named Payne Brown. Highbridge Capital is owned by JP Morgan. On the board of JP Morgan is Steve Burke, the number two executive at Comcast,” said Allen.

These revelations are important because Comcast promised to create and carry minority-owned channels as part of several conditions mandated by regulators to approve the 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. Allen claims Comcast has broken its commitment and instead created “token front” networks or minority network “window dressing” that feature well-known African-American celebrities that pose as owners of the networks, but in fact they are controlled by white-owned businesses.

The lawsuit claims Comcast carries only one 100% African-American owned and controlled network — the Africa Channel. But dig a little deeper and you find the network is owned by a former Comcast/NBCU executive that played a critical part organizing minority group support for the NBCUniversal buyout.

Comcast and Sharpton’s organization both dismissed the lawsuit as inflammatory and frivolous.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Sharpton called black pawn in white game 3-1-15.flv

Byron Allen appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and called Sharpton “a black pawn in a very sophisticated white economic chess game. He’s being used by his white masters at Comcast and AT&T. He just needs to shut up and get in the bleachers.” (7:12)

Enjoy Better: Maine Lawmakers Slumming in the Off-Season at Maine Resort, Sponsored by Time Warner Cable

inn by the sea

Welcome to Inn by the Sea, where relaxed coastal luxury comes naturally.

Come for the unpretentious elegance, but don’t stay for the broadband.

Time Warner Cable’s war on competitive broadband in the state of Maine tastes delicious, if you are a lawmaker who enjoys a $26 herb marinated skirt steak with roasted mushrooms, chimichurri, piquillo aioli, and herbed hand cut steak fries in the dining room of the Cape Elizabeth seaside resort Inn by the Sea. Time Warner Cable (and you) picked up the tab, and for those lawmakers too full to drive, the cable company was ready with complimentary rooms at the Inn that retail off-season for $205-355 a night.

twcWelcome to the 2015 Time Warner Cable Winter Policy Conference, held Jan 22-23 at the remodeled resort and spa where a stay during the summer can cost $500 a day.

Thursday night’s dinner was followed by an all-day information lobbying event Friday — a workday when Maine lawmakers would normally be expected to serve the public interest, but served Time Warner Cable’s instead.

The overall theme of the conference: Defending Time Warner Cable’s performance in Maine and why letting community-owned providers compete with them is a really bad idea.

While lawmakers enjoyed complimentary access to the Inn by Sea’s high-speed Wi-Fi connection, Internet service around the rest of Cape Elizabeth is considerably less sublime, with Angie’s List reporting only 23 percent of the locals consider their broadband provider reliable. Maine itself is ranked 49th out of 50 states for quality of service and availability and no steak dinner will convince honest lawmakers the state is prepared with robust broadband required for the 21st century digital economy. Several members have introduced various measures to aid communities trying to move beyond DSL provided by FairPoint Communications and up to 50Mbps broadband from Time Warner Cable.

SWFIMG_080723_15590228_5EG1FThe thought of competition is enough to give any cable lobbyist indigestion, especially if the new entrant provides fiber to the home service, something almost unknown among commercial providers in Maine.

Lawmakers caught attending the shindig claimed they attended the “educational forum” to become informed.

But a review of the presenter list suggests this was hardly a 60 Minutes/Edward R. Murrow moment. Lawmakers may not have been aware the presentations were about as balanced as a program length commercial:

  • Moderator (Session 1): Jadz Janucik, National Cable & Telecommunication Association – The NCTA is the nation’s largest cable industry lobbying group;
  • Dave Thomas, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP: A corporate attorney representing cable companies, particularly when they face competitive threats;
  • Lisa Schoenthaler, National Cable & Telecommunication Association;
  • Moderator (Session 2): Charlie Williams, Time Warner Cable;
  • Charles Davidson and Michael Santorelli from the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School. Both have received direct compensation from Time Warner Cable for their  “research” reports and are very active and frequent defenders of Time Warner Cable’s public policy agenda;
  • Joe Gillan, Gillan Associates – an economist working under paid contract with the cable industry;
  • Moderator (Session 3): Tom Federle, Federle Law: Chief lobbyist for Time Warner Cable in Maine for over seven years;
  • Robin Casey, Enockever LLP: Casey is one of the nation’s pre-eminent cable industry lawyers, called by the Texas Cable Association “the authority on the telecom industry;”
  • Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, Critical Insights: A Maine pollster hired by Time Warner Cable to carry out the company’s carefully worded survey on broadband issues;
  • Moderator (Session 5): Melinda Poore, senior vice president of governmental relations, Time Warner Cable Maine.

spa lobby“If we want good public policy, there’s reason for all of us to be worried,” utilities expert Gordon Weil, the state’s first Public Advocate, who represented the interests of ratepayers before regulators, told the Maine Center for Public Integrity. Such treatment of legislators is “obviously intended to persuade them by more than the validity of the arguments; it’s intended to persuade by the reception they’re given.”

That sentiment was echoed in a glowing review from a Time Warner colleague given to Tom Federle, the company’s top lobbyist.

“Tom has been the primary lobbyist for Time Warner Cable’s Maine operations for the past seven years,” said Melinda Poole, an executive vice president for governmental relations at Time Warner Cable. “He has a real knack for distilling complex issues for policy makers, has always been able to advance our positions effectively, and consistently has outperformed for us. Tom is well respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle.”

Lawmakers contacted by the Maine Center for Public Integrity seemed to sidestep or downplay the ethical issues of attending the company-sponsored event.

“I think this idea of meals and conversations is how Augusta functions on some level,” said Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland), who attended the event in Cape Elizabeth, did not stay overnight but was provided dinner and breakfast by Time Warner.

Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Hampden), for whom Time Warner paid the cost of meals and the room, said he thought “about a dozen” legislators attended the Thursday night dinner. Dion said “30 or 35″ attended the second day’s sessions.

Partying-ExecsScott Pryzwansky, Time Warner Cable’s director of public relations for the eastern U.S., declined to answer any specific questions but replied by email: “As one of Maine’s leading employers and telecommunications companies, we designed this second biannual educational forum to help policymakers and others better understand some of the complex telecommunications issues confronting Maine and the nation.”

Critics contend such “educational” meetings held at posh locations where company lobbyists hand out free meals and room keys do more to obfuscate than clarify issues for lawmakers, who are likely to remember the accommodations and who provided them more than the seminar.

“I would have said, ‘Fine, if you want to meet with me, come meet on state facilities, no steak dinner,’ said Weil. “If steak dinners didn’t work, they wouldn’t give them steak dinners.”

Time Warner Cable’s two-day event included a packet of handouts, obtained by Stop the Cap!, that illustrate exactly how one-sided the affair was:

  • sock puppetA highly slanted (refuted here) presentation opposing “Government Operated Networks” (or GONs – a favorite acronym used by industry-funded think tanks to oppose municipal broadband) produced by the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute;
  • an NCTA-produced sheet opposing taxes on Internet access;
  • a Time Warner Cable-written summary of recent Maine Public Utility Commission conclusions about the availability of affordable telephone service;
  • a guest letter to the editor from Fred Campbell, who has a long history running industry-funded groups that are supposed to advocate for competition, except when an industry friend’s merger deal is on the line;
  • and a blog post from the Koch Brothers-funded corporate-friendly Reason.com.

The slanted push-poll part of the presentation was also unsurprisingly predictable.

“Do you approve or disapprove of the current practice of Maine’s government using tax dollars and fees on consumers to subsidize public entities to compete with private businesses?” asked one question.

Another asked if residents would favor “using taxpayer supported debt to build government-owned broadband networks,” ignoring the fact many projects are covered by bonds that carry little or no risk to taxpayers. Some profitable projects could even return money to local communities.

At least one lawmaker was quickly skeptical of the veracity of the company-sponsored poll.

State Rep. Sarah Gideon (D- Freeport) said some of the questions were “leading.”

“Nobody’s going to say ‘Yes, I want my state to incur debt,’” said Gideon. “We see lots of surveys as policymakers and we have to be smart enough to look at what questions are asked.”

Since 2008, Time Warner has donated more than $240,000 to Maine politicians: $127,360 to Democrats and Democratic PACs, and $113,250 to Republicans and Republican PACs. Most of the minor improvements in the state’s broadband rankings since 2013 come from community providers providing a quantum speed leap over traditional DSL and cable broadband services most Maine residents receive.

Tip for Reporters – Always Follow the Money: Comcast/Time Warner Cable Merger Supporters

Buy a vocal supporter for your merger deal.

Buy a vocal supporter for your merger deal.

The Los Angeles Times published a piece this week noting that the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger does have its supporters:

To be sure, dozens of groups also support the proposed Comcast merger, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Business Council, the L.A. County Economic Development Council and the National Urban League. Television networks including Ovation, Hallmark Channel and Starz also support the deal.

But the article never informs readers the groups in support of the transaction all have direct financial ties to Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or both cable companies. It would only be news if these groups opposed the merger.

Stop the Cap! has found almost no support for the merger deal among independent organizations that are not on the payroll of either merger partner. The myriad of civil rights organizations, trade associations, and non-profit groups penning letters to regulators supporting the deal are nearly all recipients of contributions from Comcast or Time Warner.

Comcast is notorious for capitalizing on their charitable corporate giving by mailing advocacy packages to donor recipients that urge support for the company’s public policy and corporate agendas. Comcast even includes sample letters a group can use to create their own letter of support, which explains why so many are nearly identical.

Although Comcast never threatens to cut off groups that don’t follow through, the company does know who sent letters and who did not, as they all become part of the public record.

In less than 30 minutes, Stop the Cap! was able to trace direct economic ties between Comcast and/or Time Warner Cable and the groups the LA Times story mentions. Readers deserve to know this information and it should have been included in the story.

comcast twcLet us review:

The LA Chamber of Commerce: Time Warner Cable is a “Diamond Club Member,” which the Chamber claims represents the “largest member investors.”

The Orange County Business Council includes a Time Warner Cable executive on its Board of Directors and is a major “investor” in the group.

Not only is Time Warner Cable on the executive committee of the LA Economic Development Council, it also serves on the group’s board of governors. Comcast is also a member.

The National Urban League advocates in favor of almost everything Comcast wants, no doubt because the organization that sold out to big corporate donors long ago is also on Comcast’s payroll. The group has received at least $12 million in in-kind contributions from Comcast, as well as receiving checks for more than 70 local chapter projects. Comcast’s executive vice president David Cohen has sat on the Urban League’s board of trustees since 2008. In addition, the Comcast Foundation, headed by Cohen, gave the National Urban League and some of its more than 100 affiliates almost $2 million from 2012 to 2013, according to an analysis of IRS tax filings by the Center for Public Integrity.

As for Ovation, Hallmark Channel and Starz — they are all cable networks dependent on carriage agreements with the nation’s first (Comcast) and second-largest (Time Warner Cable) cable operators for their economic survival.

House and Senate Hold Hearings on GOP Fake Net Neutrality Alternative Supported by Telecom Lobby

Phillip Dampier January 21, 2015 Astroturf, Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 3 Comments
Thune

Thune

The House and Senate today held back-to-back hearings on the issue of adopting a Republican alternative to the president’s idea of Net Neutrality.

After the president directly addressed his support of strong Net Neutrality protections, FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler indicated he intended to act on the issue next month. Now many Republican legislators have changed their original view that Net Neutrality was “a solution in search of a problem” into a high priority agenda item demanding immediate attention, hoping to cut off Wheeler’s regulatory solution with new legislation.

That came in the form of a proposed new bill to define the principles of Net Neutrality from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

“By turning the FCC away from a heavy-handed and messy approach to regulating the Internet, this draft protects both consumers who rely on Internet services and innovators who create jobs,” Thune wrote in a statement.

Both hearings were stacked against reclassification of broadband under Title II to assure strong Net Neutrality principles, including three witnesses formerly with the FCC that have moved into industry advocacy jobs.

(Image courtesy: Steve Rhodes)

(Image courtesy: Steve Rhodes)

Former FCC chairman Michael Powell is today America’s top cable lobbyist. Meredith Baker quickly left the FCC in 2011 after voting in favor of the Comcast-NBC merger deal, taking a lucrative position at Comcast before moving on to become the country’s top wireless industry lobbyist. Robert McDowell left the FCC in 2013 to take a job at the same law firm hired by Comcast to successfully challenge the FCC’s authority to fine the cable company over its past speed throttling practices. Today, McDowell’s employer also represents the interests of AT&T and Verizon.

Other witnesses testifying included Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee from the Multicultural, Media, Telecom & Internet Council, which claims to be a civil rights organization but in fact receives the bulk of its funding from corporate interests, including large telecom companies. It often advocates for the corporate agendas of its sponsors, including opposition to Title II reclassification and past support for the failed AT&T-T Mobile merger deal.

Tom Simmons, senior vice president of public policy for small cable operator Midcontinent Communications also appeared, opposing strong Net Neutrality policies. Simmons said that once the company explained Title II reclassification and how it would increase customers’ cable bills, support for Net Neutrality diminished.

Just two witnesses testified on behalf of consumer interests. Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge strongly advocated for Title II reclassification of broadband and Paul Misener, vice president of Global Public Policy for Amazon.com strongly opposed Internet fast lanes and other traffic manipulation practices.

The New York Times today reported that the Republicans may have an increasingly uphill fight with some of their own traditional supporters to push through legislation Internet activists claim is riddled with company-friendly loopholes.

“The libertarian conservative base is pretty astute at recognizing crony capitalism and understand how campaign finance and corporate influence affects policy,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a Net Neutrality advocacy group. “And this is a pretty transparent moment for all that.”

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