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Ohio’s Statewide 100-Gigabit Network You Paid For (But Can’t Access) & Other Broadband Woes

Phillip Dampier December 12, 2012 Astroturf, AT&T, Broadband Speed, Community Networks, Competition, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Ohio’s Statewide 100-Gigabit Network You Paid For (But Can’t Access) & Other Broadband Woes

oarnetThe taxpayers of Ohio spent $13 million to fund a new 100 gigabit institutional fiber network average Ohio residents cannot access.

The upgraded Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) delivers 10 times the speed of its immediate predecessor and is the first statewide network to achieve 100Gbps.

Gov. John Kasich was on hand to light the network, telling attendees at the ribbon-cutting ceremony it will provide research opportunities and help some of the state’s largest corporations manage manufacturing, data mining and analytics, alternative energy development, consumer products and medicine. He, among others, downplayed the fact the network offers little to average businesses and consumers in Ohio who helped pay for it. Large businesses can sign agreements with educational institutions around the state to gain access to the super-speed network.

While institutional broadband networks for education and research are important, and there is nothing inherently wrong with OARnet or its mission, it does very little to solve Ohio’s stubbornly poor broadband landscape, especially in rural areas.

This dollar-a-holler astroturf effort failed to impress Longmont voters, who turned away a Comcast-funded opposition campaign to open up the city's fiber network.

Advocacy groups affiliated with AT&T are back asking for more regulatory relief in return for promising a better broadband future for Ohio.

Ohio ranked a dismal 39th in TechNet’s broadband rankings published this month. Ohio’s Republican-dominated state government has been willing to devote state’s resources to enhance institutional broadband, but relies almost entirely on the private sector for broadband expansion to small businesses and residential customers.

TechNet notes Ohio has a history of cutting deals with providers like AT&T, among others, for “alternative” regulatory arrangements to encourage broadband expansion in exchange for approval of telecom company mergers.

The results have been meager in rural areas of the state. Despite provider promises to do more, fewer than 2% of Ohio residents have access to fiber broadband, and many smaller communities are forced to use slow speed DSL from AT&T, if they can get the service at all. AT&T has some more bad news for rural Ohio. The company’s idea of improvement is to dismantle its rural wired network and force customers to use AT&T’s expensive, bottom-rated wireless service, complete with extremely low usage caps.

As part of that process, AT&T and their friends and partners are back with more promises.

This time, it comes from research-for-hire reports like, “Incentive to Invest in Ohio Broadband & The Carrier of Last Resort Obligation,” which argues if Ohio releases AT&T from its obligation to provide phone service, investors will magically pour money into the state on broadband improvements. Just like last time. Only it never really happened for wired broadband customers.

The “report” was paid for by “Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow,” a non-profit organization that claims it “advocates for public policies that inspire and encourage innovation in technology while informing and educating technology consumers about legislative and regulatory issues that impact their lives.”

While those things may be true, even more insight can be gleaned from who actually operates the group.

techforohioStop the Cap! learned:

  • Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow is the Ohio project of Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition;
  • Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition is also related to Mobile Consumers for Choice and Competition;
  • Mobile Consumers for Choice and Competition is a registered lobbying group in the state of Wisconsin, doing business as Wired Wisconsin;
  • Wired Wisconsin’s chief partner and benefactor? AT&T It’s chief lobbyist and executive director? Thad Nation;
  • Nation has run a whole assortment of “consumer” groups out of his lobbying firm Nation Consulting, including: Illinois Technology Partnership, TV4Us, and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow. His work coincides closely with AT&T’s corporate agenda. When AT&T wanted statewide franchising of U-verse, TV4Us arrived on scene advocating exactly that. When AT&T wants to promote deregulation of its wired and wireless efforts and win government assistance with no strings attached, Wired Wisconsin, the Illinois Technology Partnership and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow were ready to go to bat for AT&T.
  • AT&T’s core involvement in all of these groups goes undisclosed.

Nation calls it an “advocacy agenda,” (we call it Astroturf backed by bought-and-paid for research) and Nation’s firm claims to specialize in it:

At Nation Consulting, Nation focuses on assisting corporate clients with strategic planning in government and public relations, and managing crisis communications.

Our team has worked on the “inside” of the offices of Governors, Congressional members, and state agencies. We’ve worked at every level of government, and we have the relationships necessary to help you navigate state and federal bureaucracies to accomplish your goals. We know how government works – and we know what government can do for you.

Getting government officials or bodies to do what you want isn’t easy. Government is inherently a slow, bureaucratic entity. When you want elected or appointed officials to change policy, you need a comprehensive plan – and the resources, relationships and quick-thinking to implement that plan.

We come to you with decades of experience in advocacy, moving legislators and engaging state agency leaders to action. Let us help you build and drive an aggressive advocacy agenda.

Regardless of your industry, the internet has a role to play in achieving your public relations goals – and we have the experience and the expertise to implement a plan suited to your needs. Whether you need to effectively use social networking sites, manage a blog, conduct email campaigns or use Web 2.0 tools, Nation Consulting can help you maximize your online presence in a way that is both cost-effective and beneficial to your business or organization.

Michigan Residents Protest Deregulation Bill That Could End Landlines; “Get a Cell Phone,” Says AT&T

When Stop the Cap! reader Nancy learned earlier this year AT&T was pushing yet another deregulation bill in the Michigan legislature allowing the company to abandon landline service if and when it chooses, she called AT&T and her state representatives to protest.

“When I called AT&T, the representative literally told me if the company ever did decide to stop offering basic phone service in Michigan, I should just ‘get a cell phone,'” Nancy reports.  “Naturally they tried to sell me one of theirs and I replied I was not likely to be loyal to a company that was willing to abandon me and hundreds of thousands of other rural customers.”

As in Wisconsin, AT&T’s lobbying efforts follow the same basic playbook: use friendly legislators and dollar-a-holler groups financed in part by AT&T to push deregulation as “improving competition” and making the state “business friendly.”  But as Nancy learned from experiences in Wisconsin, those are empty promises when rates go up.

“These same people pushed to deregulate cable in Wisconsin so they could offer AT&T’s cable TV service, promising lower prices if we had AT&T competing against Time Warner Cable,” Nancy remembers.  “Time Warner and AT&T raised their rates for both services, instead.”

Nancy has a good memory.  So do we.  Yet again, AT&T’s chief Astroturfer is Thad Nation, this time under the name of the Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition.  While consumers get ignored, Nation gets time to testify before the House Energy and Technology Committee.

Nation, who runs a lobbying firm, told legislators companies like AT&T should not have to invest in old copper-lines that consumers don’t care about.  He claims it prevents AT&T and other companies from investing in broadband and wireless.

The only thing missing from this group are actual consumers. Instead, their "partners" include: AT&T, groups funded by AT&T, and several chapters of the Chamber of Commerce.

In reality, legislation pushed by AT&T will allow them and other phone companies to abandon providing even basic landline service in the rural areas they no longer care about. There is no evidence (and no regulation) AT&T will invest in either broadband or improved wireless service in rural areas where the company is unlikely to quickly recoup its investment.

Our friends at the Michigan Telephone Blog pointed us to a piece in the Huron Daily Tribune, a newspaper at ground zero for rural Michigan’s potential loss of landline service should the deregulation bill pass.

Located in Michigan’s “thumb” — the northeastern part of the state separated by Saginaw Bay, Tribune reporters drilled down into the implications for the loss of traditional landline service in this largely-rural area of Michigan.

Huron County Commissioner John Bodis, who chairs the Legislative Committee, said he’s aware of the bill and foresees some issues with it, particularly in regard to the provision allowing phone companies to discontinue landline service in an area where Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or cell phone service is available.

“If it’s not mandated, they’re not going to do it,” he said. “So, I’m hoping the Senate version will tweak that a little bit and hold their feet to the fire, but I don’t know.”

In its May Capitol Currents, the Michigan Township Association reported its concerns center around residents losing their land-line phone services when other options are not adequate (i.e. poor cell phone coverage because of hills, trees, etc.).

In written testimony to the House Energy and Technology Committee, Brian Groom, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1106, stated over the past decade, the Michigan Legislature has gradually removed telecommunications providers from the oversight of the MPSC, and HB 4314 would complete that process by eliminating the last vestige of regulation — the Primary Basic Local Exchange Service.

“This service, as currently mandated in state statute, requires residential service providers to offer — at the very least — a basic calling plan to customers in their service territory,” Groom stated. “In 2005, when (M)PSC regulation of larger calling plans was eliminated, proponents argued that the public would continue to be protected by the existence of a Primary Basic Local Exchange Service requirement.”

“This means telecommunication companies providing basic local exchange or toll service will be able to discontinue or deny service to any customer who has access to ‘a comparable voice service.’ Nothing in the bill ensures that such service would be affordable, reliable or of a minimum quality,” Grooms continued. “For customers living in remote areas which are of a higher cost to serve via landlines, this legislation could result in them having to depend on higher cost and less reliable forms of telecommunication services. This bill would create a telecommunications environment where large areas of the state have no access at all to traditional landline telephone service.”

AT&T told Stop the Cap! reader Nancy even if the company disconnected the landlines of rural Michigan, those customers could always buy cell phones instead.

“That means people like me and my friends in places like Bad Axe, Elmwood, and Minden City — communities few people outside of Michigan would have heard of, get disconnected because they are too rural to get much attention from these companies,” Nancy says.

Frontier Communications, which provides service in some areas of the state, claims monopolies don’t exist in the phone business:

In written testimony, Bob Stewart, Frontier Communications state director of governmental affairs for Michigan and Indiana, indicated the current atmosphere is no conducive toward monopolies.

“The telecommunications industry in Michigan has moved to a highly competitive environment where monopoly powers even in rural areas do not exist,” he stated. “Unneeded and outdated regulations in the Michigan Telecommunications Act are cleaned up by HB 4314. Michigan needs to celebrate the success of the MTA by declaring victory; not over regulating simply for the sake of regulation.”

But many rural Michigan residents far from cable television and strong signal cell phone service would beg to differ.

“The further inland you head on the ‘thumb,’ the worse things get,” Nancy reports.  “Much of this is farm country and they can’t even get DSL service, and cell reception might be barely adequate outside, but walk inside and your signal is gone.”

Despite consumers like Nancy getting upset when they learn the long term implications of these bills, without a public outcry it is easy for legislators to vote with AT&T.  In the House, HB 4314 passed 102-6.  The six standouts that stood up for consumers?

Reps. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills, Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Steven Lindberg (D-Marquette), Lesia Liss (D-Warren), Edward McBroom (R-Vulcan) and Phil Potvin (R-Cadillac).

Wisconsin Republicans Rushing AT&T’s Deregulation Wishlist Into Law Before Recall Votes

Phillip Dampier May 11, 2011 Astroturf, AT&T, Competition, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Wisconsin Republicans Rushing AT&T’s Deregulation Wishlist Into Law Before Recall Votes

Governor Walker

You have to hand it to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.  He wants to push through his legislative agenda come hell or high water.  After creating a national controversy about his battles with the state’s public unions, Walker and his Republican colleagues are in a hurry to ram through their laundry list of legislative initiatives before Wisconsin voters have a chance to potentially recall a number of them.

Among Gov. Walker’s favorites — a telecommunications deregulation bill ghost-written by AT&T.  If such legislation seems familiar to you, it is.  It’s largely the same bill written by and for telecommunications companies that withered in the Democratic-controlled legislature last year.  Now the Republicans hold the majority, and they see measures to strip out rate protection for basic landline service, investigations of consumer complaints, and holding low-rated companies’ feet to the fire as “anti-business and anti-competitive.”

Somehow, bill proponents claim, all of this deregulation will inspire AT&T and other companies to wire rural Wisconsin for broadband service, which would be a remarkable feat considering they’ve not done so in other states where they’ve passed nearly-identical deregulation bills several years ago.  In fact, the bill eliminates any state oversight of broadband matters period, end of story.

Perhaps AT&T’s goodwill will bring broadband to the rural masses.  What are the chances?  Not good, considering the proposed legislation also allows AT&T the right to abandon providing basic telephone service in the same rural areas still waiting for broadband.  Your chances of getting DSL from AT&T are markedly diminished if the company decides to disconnect your phone line, permanently.

“What’s in it for the citizens of Wisconsin?” asked Rob Boelk, president of one Wisconsin chapter of the Communications Workers of America that represents AT&T workers. “If you want to give away the farm, what will you get in return?”

Why campaign contribution checks, of course.

AT&T and other telecommunications companies have donated heavily to legislators in the state, particularly those sponsoring their legislative wishlists.  Walker has made serving the interests of AT&T and the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association one of his top priorities this spring.

AT&T is delighted.  In fact, they are so confident in their friendship with Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, they are willing to throw their usual deregulation allies overboard in the bill.  Verizon and Sprint are fiercely opposing AT&T’s bill, despite promoting it in prior years.  At issue are new provisions requiring wireless and VoIP providers to pay higher government fees and also pay access charges for using other companies’ broadband networks (AT&T’s) to complete calls.

At a recent hearing, telecom company executives told members of the state Senate’s Information Technology Committee Senate Bill 13‘s deregulation would bring competitive balance in the industry, wider broadband access and create tens of thousands of jobs.

They didn’t bring any evidence to back up those claims, but bill sponsor Rich Zipperer, (R-Pewaukee) was ready to deliver AT&T’s talking points anyway.  He’s a helper.

“Today’s smart phone world is governed by rotary phone regulations,” Zipperer said. “We have to ensure our telecommunications infrastructure can keep up with market demands.”

Evidently that means upgrading wireless networks, something AT&T is preoccupied with these days judging from their television ads, while ignoring Wisconsin’s rural consumers.

In fact, when similar bills passed in other AT&T states, basic telephone service rates began increasing, sometimes repeatedly.  AT&T wants to push customers into pre-packaged bundles of services, so most of the savings go to those who take all of their telecommunications business to AT&T.  But if all you want (or can afford) is a basic telephone line, price increases are in your future.

The dollar-a-holler groups are out and about

Zipperer called copper wire landlines “ancient technology,” a relevant point if AT&T was delivering something better to every Wisconsin resident.  They are not.  Instead, while their landline network languishes in rural areas, the company is investing in U-verse upgrades in larger cities, setting up the potential for telecommunications have’s and have-no-longer’s.

Some of the accompanying documentation supporting the deregulation bill is also suspect.

We were particularly struck with broadband map data provided by bill proponents showing a bountiful supply of competitive choice for broadband service in Wisconsin. Ironically, their bill also bans the state from getting involved in broadband mapping in the future.  Those who control the maps control the debate over broadband availability.  As usual, provider-influenced maps promise service where none exists or comes with strings attached.

Providers equate wireless broadband as identical to DSL, fiber, and cable Internet service.  Because of that, customers even in “one-bar” towns can “enjoy” wireless broadband from AT&T and Verizon (as long as they keep it under 2-5GB a month with AT&T or under 10GB on Verizon’s mobile broadband plans.)  Sprint, which barely covers rural and suburban Wisconsin, is also considered a player.  So is T-Mobile, despite the fact AT&T wants to buy it.  For most of Wisconsin, the broadband reality is far different.  AT&T is the dominant provider of DSL and U-verse service, Time Warner Cable delivers most of the cable broadband.  In rural areas, a handful of Wireless ISPs deliver service to some areas, but many others have no access at all.

Robust competition?  No.  Will this bill change that?  No.

Wired Wisconsin is wired into AT&T's cash machine.

Deregulation only enhances the trend of landline providers like AT&T allowing their aging landline networks to go to pot.  Providing DSL or wireless broadband to rural Wisconsin requires the same return on investment with this bill as it does without, and these companies have refused to deliver either, using that reasoning, for years.

Despite common sense reality, the dollar-a-holler groups are working overtime with AT&T to push this bill.  Take “Wired Wisconsin,” a group particularly ‘burdened’ with its corporate sponsors (namely AT&T).  Wired Wisconsin is all for the deregulation bill, which they like to call “modernized telecom rules.”  The group’s leader Thad Nation, is a lobbyist who has run several campaigns promoting AT&T’s agenda, including the ironically-named Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition, TV4Us and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow, all creatures of AT&T.

Nation’s lobbying firm explains how it works:

Getting government officials or bodies to do what you want isn’t easy. Government is inherently a slow, bureaucratic entity. When you want elected or appointed officials to change policy, you need a comprehensive plan – and the resources, relationships and quick-thinking to implement that plan.

We come to you with decades of experience in advocacy, moving legislators and engaging state agency leaders to action. Let us help you build and drive an aggressive advocacy agenda.

It’s a tough job, and Nation can be glad he isn’t doing it alone.  The Discovery Institute, which has turned pay-for-play research into an art form, was linked by Wired Wisconsin to “negate the myths and false assumptions” deregulation will bring.  They quote from Connected Nation, another industry connected group.  The only false assumption is that these people do this work for free and their results represent actual independent analysis.

Even if one were to believe AT&T’s claims, fact-checking them is just a few states away, in places like Arkansas, Kansas, or Texas.  None of them are bastions of rural broadband.  They weren’t before AT&T’s lobbying circus came to town and they still aren’t after they left.

Exposed: Shallow Editorials, Press Coverage in Illinois Promotes AT&T Deregulation Bill That Harms Consumers

Illinois politics is business as usual — if you’re a high-powered business like AT&T, that is.  They’ve just proven how easy it is to sucker the fifth largest state’s legislature and several newspaper editorial boards with a dog and pony show of promises that it will have few regrets (and no consequences) for breaking later on.

Once again, AT&T is upset about the terms it agreed to in efforts to rebuild its nationwide reach through frenzied mergers and acquisitions.  This time it’s the 1999 merger with Ameritech.  AT&T claims the promises its partner SBC made to state regulators to green-light the deal are now too hard to honor. If only you and I could lobby legislators to walk away from our own personal responsibilities.  “I can’t pay my town taxes because the neighborhood has changed since I first moved here, so it would be unfair of you to ask.”

The argument apparently worked in the Illinois General Assembly which passed AT&T’s Get Off the Regulatory Hook Bill (Senate Bill 107) unanimously earlier this month.  The bill has now been sitting on Governor Quinn’s desk for more than two weeks, and AT&T is getting nervous.  Letters to the editor and AT&T-friendly editorials have started appearing in the Illinois press in a coordinated effort to beat the drum loud enough to get the governor’s attention to sign the bill unchanged.

Ameritech used to provide phone service to most of Illinois before being purchased by SBC Communications (later AT&T) in 1999.

Memories are short.  The Illinois Commerce Commission established ground rules for AT&T precisely because its predecessor provided abysmal service in the state.  As part of a hard-fought campaign to secure Ameritech, AT&T promised Illinois it would:

  • provide reliable landline service in rural Illinois at a fair price;
  • provide DSL broadband to at least 90 percent of Illinois customers;
  • recognize that landline service remains an essential utility for millions of residents, many of whom don’t have the option of switching to another provider.

That was then, this is now.

These days, those requirements are apparently too tough on AT&T.  The company complains Illinois residents can switch to Comcast phone service (from the Worst Company in America 2010) or sign up for cell phone service from AT&T or a few other providers, assuming one has reception.  With all of this “competition,” AT&T argues there is no reason to continue regulating the company’s landline services, especially in rural areas AT&T could probably do without anyway.

Illinois is just the latest stop on AT&T’s big budget deregulation traveling circus, starring high-paid lobbyists and astroturf friends, all coordinating to unshackle their benefactor from pesky regulations.

The state’s legislature is evidently a million miles away from its fellow midwestern states who have been chauffeured down AT&T’s Promise Avenue before, only to discover it quickly became a one-way toll road for consumers.  Ask Wisconsin.

AT&T’s Message — Less is more.

AT&T routinely promises less regulation will magically open the door for its much-coveted U-verse platform.  Every elected official would love to claim he or she brought much-needed cable competition to their district, so promises of telco-TV are quite an incentive for legislators.  The formula is simple — you deregulate us and we’ll bring more U-verse deployment to your state.

Illinois State Senator Michael Bond (D-31st District)

Politicians trip over one another running to the nearest microphone over promises like that.

“This legislation is the key to opening up investment in the telecommunications industry in Illinois,” said state Sen. Michael Bond. “By modernizing our system, we are showing providers that we are worthy of their investment.”

But hasn’t AT&T already made a trip to that well before?  Last June, AT&T issued a press release crediting deregulation undertaken in 2007 for making U-verse expansion possible in Illinois:

AT&T U-verse is being expanded in Illinois thanks to legislation passed in 2007 and supported by State Senators Larry Bomke and Bill Brady and State Representatives Raymond Poe, Rich Brauer, Robert Flider and Bill Mitchell. The Cable and Video Competition Law provides an environment that encourages new video providers, such as AT&T Illinois, to invest in Illinois to compete against incumbent cable providers.

What will AT&T want next to finish U-verse deployment in Illinois – tax-free status?

That U-verse was designed to save AT&T’s landline business from a torrent of disconnect requests always gets missed by elected officials.  Basic landline service over copper wire is a dying business.  If AT&T doesn’t deploy U-verse, its ultimate destiny as a landline provider will be the horse and buggy industry of the 21st century.  Regulators need not throw away valuable consumer protections to protect a multi-billion dollar company already well-aware of what it needs to accomplish to stay profitable.

What consumers end up with — Less service for more money.

Despite the flowery rhetoric that competition is breaking out all over Illinois, 78 percent of state residents continue to rely on landline telephone service. That numbers 6.5 million consumers. Among the well-represented holdouts are fixed income seniors, and for most of them, a $200 monthly deluxe triple-play package of services is out of the question.

For customers that cannot afford higher rates, the Illinois Citizens Utility Board fought for and won a three year rate freeze and reprieve for AT&T’s budget-minded Consumer’s Choice telephone packages that were slated to be discontinued.  These packages don’t bundle unneeded calling features or extra services, instead providing affordable basic telephone service.  But after three years, AT&T can cancel these packages and raise prices at will, particularly in rural areas where competition is minimal to non-existent.  State oversight of AT&T is also history, leaving little recourse for consumers who suffer through poor service or AT&T’s legendary billing nightmares.

Supporters also promoted the deregulation legislation as a “jobs bill” — a ludicrous contention for legislation that contains no section pertaining to jobs.  Perhaps they meant more jobs for AT&T’s lobbying crew.  In fact, landline phone companies like AT&T are slashing jobs by the tens of thousands and will likely continue to do so.

Illinois Senate Bill 107 allows AT&T to set the stage to follow Verizon’s example — exiting rural areas, leaving the bulk of their investments and potential profits in large cities like Chicago.

The State Journal-Register wrote a shortsighted editorial supporting the proposed deregulation bill

Newspaper editorials like this one in the State Journal-Register in Springfield mean well but are breathtakingly short-sighted.  The editorial staff gushes about the benefits U-verse will bring Springfield, without any evidence U-verse will actually be universally available in the community anytime soon:

On a less philosophical level, we believe the new telecom law will be beneficial to most Illinois consumers because it should promote competition for household cable TV, Internet and phone service. In markets like Springfield, it could allow AT&T and Comcast to go head-to-head throughout the city, not just in the few areas where AT&T’s U-verse service is now available. That’s what cable customers have been demanding for decades.

AT&T customers have learned not to hold their breath waiting.  Any regular visitor to the company’s own support forums will quickly discover customers frustrated by lack of availability, hit or miss service, and no coverage map.  One customer summed it up:

I have NEVER in my life had to fight so hard to spend money on something.
Not even my wife makes it this hard on me to get something.
I have NEVER in my life (aside from when I got my AT&T POTS service) had a company work so slowly to accomplish something to try and attract a perspective customer or keep a current customer.

But there’s more.  Had the Journal-Register picked up the phone and checked with their neighboring states, they would have learned U-verse is not the competitive nirvana it’s routinely promised to be.  In Wisconsin, rates for cable, broadband, and phone service continue to increase, not decrease.  Most of the savings built into introductory packages for new customers expire after one year, and some providers limit the discounts to once per household.  That means once your new customer discount package expires, you may never get it again.  Then it’s a lifetime of ever-increasing pricing.

AT&T-backed bills also never require the company to completely wire every community for its U-verse service.  The company can bypass neighborhoods, towns and villages, or buildings it feels are not cost-effective to serve.  There are states that deregulated AT&T to their specifications and years later, communities are still waiting for service to reach their areas.  Illinois will be no different, and if AT&T determines U-verse isn’t worth the investment in large swaths of southern Illinois, so be it.

The Citizens Utility Board is correct when it predicts most of the investment will end up in Chicago, even at the expense of other parts of the state.  AT&T always follows the money.

AT&T’s Astroturf Friends Join the Parade

You have to look closely to see the connection. Who really is behind ITP?

AT&T’s friends are also writing letters to the editor demanding action, without disclosing they are bought and paid for sock puppets.

Take the Illinois Technology Partnership, which claims to represent a grand union of consumer and private interests for the betterment of Illinois’ high tech future.  In reality, it’s yet another AT&T astroturf group that works against consumers.

Their claim:

The Illinois Technology Partnership is the Illinois-based project of Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition, a non-profit organization of individual consumers interested in technology, broadband, and telecommunication issues with state projects throughout the Midwest region.  ITP brings together industry experts, thought leaders, and Illinois consumers to foster an environment that will encourage emerging technologies, jobs, and investment, and spur economic growth on the state and local level.

Reality Check:

Both ITP and the ironically-named “Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition” are both creatures of AT&T.  Thad Nation, behind all of these groups, invents AT&T-supported astroturf campaigns in various states where the company delivers service.  Over the past few years, Nation has cooked up TV4Us, Wired Wisconsin and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow, among others.  But his real day job is the founder and senior partner at Nation Consulting, a politically-connected lobbying firm:

At Nation Consulting, Nation focuses on assisting corporate clients with strategic planning in government and public relations, and managing crisis communications.

Our team has worked on the “inside” of the offices of Governors, Congressional members, and state agencies. We’ve worked at every level of government, and we have the relationships necessary to help you navigate state and federal bureaucracies to accomplish your goals. We know how government works – and we know what government can do for you.

Getting government officials or bodies to do what you want isn’t easy. Government is inherently a slow, bureaucratic entity. When you want elected or appointed officials to change policy, you need a comprehensive plan – and the resources, relationships and quick-thinking to implement that plan.

We come to you with decades of experience in advocacy, moving legislators and engaging state agency leaders to action. Let us help you build and drive an aggressive advocacy agenda.

Regardless of your industry, the internet has a role to play in achieving your public relations goals – and we have the experience and the expertise to implement a plan suited to your needs. Whether you need to effectively use social networking sites, manage a blog, conduct email campaigns or use Web 2.0 tools, Nation Consulting can help you maximize your online presence in a way that is both cost-effective and beneficial to your business or organization.

Ordinary consumers can’t afford Nation Consulting’s services so he doesn’t work for them.

As usual, AT&T’s connections don’t end there.  Many of the “partners” listed on ITP’s website are themselves also backed by AT&T — the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce just two examples.  Several of ITP’s partners follow Nation’s efforts wherever he goes, also ending up affiliated with his other astroturf projects.

A letter to the editor appearing in The Daily Herald signed by Lindsay Mosher, executive director of ITP, applauds the state legislature for passing AT&T’s custom-crafted deregulation bill:

This legislation will spur significant private investment, increase broadband access and create jobs for Illinois residents at no cost to taxpayers.

The legislature deserves our thanks for taking this step.

Now it’s up to Governor Quinn to finish the job and sign the bill without changes, as some have suggested.

As is too often the case, readers are done a disservice when a newspaper prints a self-interested letter to the editor or guest editorial without fully disclosing who is behind it.  Mosher could have signed her letter “AT&T lobbyist” and been more honest.  In fact, in addition to her position at ITP, she’s also employed by another Chicago lobbying firm — Resolute Consulting.  It specializes in issue advocacy as well, and doesn’t work for free.

AT&T spends an enormous amount of money carefully crafting its issues advocacy campaigns designed to convince consumers they are representing your best interests.  Wouldn’t using all this money to lower your phone bill and provide better broadband service be a better allocation of resources if, as AT&T claims, this is all to benefit consumers?

Here’s another question — if an individual consumer in western New York can expose all of these incestuous ties between supposedly grassroots consumer groups and the telecom companies and interests that fund them, why can’t the news media in Illinois?  If they only followed the money, the real story about Senate Bill 107 could have been told before it sailed through the legislature unopposed.

Now, the only chance Illinois consumers have is if Governor Quinn loses the bill.

AT&T-Backed Telecommunications Deregulation Bill Shot Down in Wisconsin

Plale

Consumer advocates are celebrating the defeat of telecommunications bills designed to favor AT&T’s corporate interests in Wisconsin.

Assembly Bill 696 and Senate Bill 469 were designed to give AT&T and other telephone companies the option of no longer being classified as telecommunications utilities.

Once that happened, the state Public Service Commission would lose the authority to oversee much of their operations.  In practical terms, it means phone companies could raise their rates at will and never have to justify them by reporting their profits and expenses to the Commission.  Another provision would have eliminated the PSC’s authority to deal with phone service complaints on behalf of consumers and businesses.  But considering the bills would have also eliminated the universal service requirement, AT&T and other phone companies could have simply disconnected land lines in unprofitable areas of the state and left rural Wisconsin with no phone service to complain about.

The legislation was introduced by Senator Jeff Plale in the Senate and Representative Josh Zepnick in the Assembly.  Both men are Democrats serving districts in Milwaukee.

Zepnick

Potentially motivating the legislation were substantial campaign contributions from AT&T.  For Plale, who is the top recipient of telecom contributions among all Democrats across the state, AT&T provided $4,000 and the cable industry donated $6,446 from 2003 through 2009, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Zepnick received $1,400 from cable providers and AT&T during the period.  In total, at least a half million dollars in contributions from the phone and cable companies have been spent on Wisconsin legislators over the past six years.

Zepnick’s legislative maneuvering to push through the bill in the waning days of the state legislative session collided with Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, who pulled the rug out from under AT&T and other telecom interests by referring the bill to the Legislature’s budget committee for review — a black hole from which the bill had no chance of emerging.

That triggered a reaction from Zepnick and his friends in the telecom front group community.

Zepnick told Wisconsin newspapers he wasn’t sure what to make of Decker’s diversion of his legislation, which political observers suggest is nonsense.  At the end of every legislative session, large numbers of orphaned bills are dumped in study committees or never taken up in both bodies.

“If it doesn’t get done, that’s going to be a huge missed opportunity for Wisconsin,” Thad Nation, executive director of AT&T-backed Wired Wisconsin told the Associated Press.  Nation claimed the bill would have traded regulatory authority away in return for more investment in the state by communications providers. “As other states move forward, Wisconsin will be left behind.”

Consumer advocates suggested Nation had it exactly backwards.

“It eliminates the regulations the Public Service Commission has used to ensure affordable and reliable landline telephone service for decades,” said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, who told the AP three million landlines still exist in Wisconsin.  That turns back the clock on service standards.

Nation

With AT&T and other providers left to increase rates at a whim, the only thing moving forward, and upwards, would be Wisconsin phone and cable bills.

Not every legislator bought AT&T’s position that less regulation equals more service.

Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie), opposed the legislation from the day it was introduced, suggesting he would push for amendments to ensure the PSC would continue to protect landline phone customers and, for the first time, extend that power to cell phone service.

“If a service provider is not doing their job, consumers should have recourse. That’s one of our jobs as legislators,” he told AP. “We have to be sure that consumers get the service they paid for and it’s properly provided to them.”

As late as last week, AT&T had a dozen lobbyists working the Wisconsin legislature for votes.  Wired Wisconsin, which is actually an extension of corporate lobbying firm Nation Consulting, pushed the idea that Google would bypass Wisconsin for its Think Big With a Gig fiber to the home network if the state didn’t adopt the deregulation bill the firm was promoting.

Ultimately, the proposed legislation passed the Wisconsin Assembly but was never taken up by the state Senate.  Since being shelved for the session, Wired Wisconsin has moved on to re-tweeting Broadband for America pieces bashing Net Neutrality and FCC broadband oversight.  As Stop the Cap! readers know, Broadband for America is the largest telecom Astroturf effort ever, with dozens of members that are funded by Verizon or AT&T or equipment manufacturers whose businesses depend on contracts with large telecom companies.

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