Telecoms’ Secret Plan To Attack Net Neutrality: Target Video Gamers And Stoke Fear Of Chinese Censorship

Net neutrality, a guiding principle for preserving a free and fair Internet, means that Internet service providers are not allowed to discriminate based on content for its customers. However, telecommunications firms — like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and others — are firmly against net neutrality because they would like to increase their profits by deciding which websites customers can see, and at what speed. The telecom industry has dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into a lobby campaign against net neutrality. As the FCC now takes up net neutrality rule making, the industry is pushing an “outside approach” of hiring front groups and astroturf operatives.

This morning, representatives from various front groups launched a new coordinated campaign to kill net neutrality. Speaking on Capitol Hill, these front groups took turns decrying the evils of the principle of a fair and unbiased Internet. LULAC, which is funded by AT&T, called Net Neutrality “Obamacare for the Internet.” (LULAC was not present at the press conference. The Hispanic Leadership Fund, another group funded by the telecom industry and opposed to net neutrality, spoke at the event. We apologize for the error.) Americans for Prosperity — a corporate front group founded by oil billionaire David Koch but also funded by telecom interests — unveiled a new ad smearing net neutrality as a “government takeover” (the initial ad buy is $1.4 million dollars). And Grover Norquist, representing his “Americans for Tax Reform” corporate front group, said net neutrality is like what China does, “putting policemen on every corner, on the street or on the Internet.” Watch it:

ThinkProgress has obtained a PowerPoint document which reveals how the telecom industry is orchestrating the latest campaign against Net Neutrality. Authored by representatives from the Atlas Network — a shell think tank used to coordinate corporate front group efforts worldwide — the document lays out the following strategy:

— Slides 7-8 calls for the campaign to target “libertarian minded internet users and video gamers” and “social conservative activists” with anti-government messages and a rebranding of net neutrality as “Net Brutality.”

— Slide 9 calls for a strategy of creating a Chinese blog to compare net neutrality to Chinese government censorship, outreach via social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

— Slides 10-11 detail how representatives met at Grover Norquist’s infamous “Wednesday morning meeting” to orchestrate the new campaign. Norquist is known to use his Wednesday meetings to plot strategy and conservative coalition building towards lobbying goals.

The PowerPoint was created on April 14th, shortly before the campaign website officially launched. The “Net Brutality” website relies heavily on Americans for Prosperity sources, as well as a website called — which is openly funded by the American Cable Association, At&T, Comcast, and the US Telecom Association.

During the Jack Abramoff investigation, Norquist was exposed for selling support from his front groups to corporations. In one damning e-mail, Norquist is promised $50,000 dollars in exchange for providing his Americans for Tax Reform support to one of Abramoff’s clients. Today, Norquist was not only parroting the PowerPoint talking points at the press conference, but he also brought in other key conservative movement leaders and Republican lawmakers to the event.

In addition to the front groups, the loudest voice against net neutrality is still Glenn Beck, who has smeared free Internet proponents as Marxists and Communists, and has adopted the attack that net neutrality constitutes a “government takeover.” However, it is important to realize that even Beck is being fed with opposition research dug up by operatives at Americans for Prosperity. This research document, compiled by Americans for Prosperity staffers, lays out point by point the attacks Beck has used in the past few weeks to disparage net neutrality supporters. If Beck picks up this new outreach to video game enthusiasts and the false comparison to Chinese censorship, then the impact of the “Net Brutality” PowerPoint will be even more apparent.

Telecom firms like AT&T and Verizon are among the most profitable in the world, yet America lags behind other countries in terms of broadband access and speed. Instead of dumping lobbying money into anti-net neutrality front groups and fear-mongering campaigns, the telecom industry should invest in improving service and accessibility.


David MacLeanRight-wing media outlets have seized upon McCullagh’s erroneous report that this presentation was created by students learning about free market campaigns. One of the authors of the “No Net Brutality” campaign is David MacLean, a Canadian who has worked at a myriad of big business front groups, including the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Alberta Enterprise Group. MacLean is featured in the PowerPoint standing outside of Norquist’s headquarters in DC. He has worked as a professional in front group communications since 2002.

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,CNET’s Declan McCullagh has posted an item critical of this post. However, McCullagh misleads his readers by claiming the presentation was created only by “students” unrelated to any industry groups or lobbyists. The author and administrator of the “No Net Brutality” website is Kristin McMurray, a staff Project Manager of Americans for Limited Government’s Sunshine Review front group. McCullagh playfully acknowledges the presenters met with the lobbyist-organized “Wednesday morning meeting,” but takes their word that their “three minute” presentation had no influence. Of course, as this post notes, Norquist was caught yesterday parroting the same talking points from the presentation, along with the other telecom industry-funded front groups at the event. As observed yesterday, McMurray is using a professional PR service to track Internet discussion of her anti-net neutrality site. Grassroots, indeed.

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