Monday, July 31, 2006

The Black Stake in the Internet

By Bruce Dixon
The Black Commentator

America’s black misleadership class, which is nearly indistinguishable from its black business class, has struck again. In a stunning coup, a mainline African American voting rights group has been enlisted on the side of AT&T and other telecom monopolies in their legislative push to privatize the Internet and roll back hundreds of agreements with local communities that force these monopolies to extend Internet and cable service to poor and rural communities around the country.

A time-worn corporate technique for dishonestly manipulating public opinion is to create what are called in the world of public relations, industry-funded organizations and front groups. The indispensable site spells it out like this:

"An industry-funded organization receives funding from a company or industry and often acts as a mouthpiece for views that serve the industry's economic interests… Industry-funded organizations come in many shapes and sizes… trade associations, think tanks, non-profit advocacy groups, and media outlets. Some of these organizations serve as ‘third parties’ for public relations campaigns. The third party technique has been defined by one PR executive as ‘putting your words in someone else's mouth.’”

"A front group… purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. The front group is perhaps the most easily recognized use of the third party technique. For example, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding…”

For this legislative sales season, the telecommunications monopolies have created a deceptively named corporate mouthpiece called Hands Off the Internet. Its chief public spokesman is former Clinton White House official Mike McCurry. A look at the Hands Off member organizations reveals a list of the usual suspects like the American Conservative Union, the Center for Individual Freedom, and the notorious National Association of Manufacturers. As bankrollers and hosts of the party, one expects to see AT&T and Cingular listed, and they are.

Renting black Republicans is neither a new nor a big deal, so the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which recently fronted for the proposed privatization of Social Security on the grounds that fewer African Americans lived to collect it, is along for the ride too. In their attention to detail the telecom monopolies have even rented the traditional contingent of black preachers, constructed them a web site and bestowed upon them the title of Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide.

BC was quite surprised, however to see one of the mainstays of black voting rights activism listed among the members of the telecom astroturf group: the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. How and why did this happen? What does it mean for NCBCP and for what remains of the civil rights movement?

Why Network Neutrality is a Black Issue

On April 27, BC published two stories about CBC member Bobby Rush's sponsorship of this year's noxious telco legislation. We explained how the Rush-Barton Act, also called the COPE Act or HR 5252, would kill off public access TV, strip towns and cities of the right to force cable monopolies to serve blacker and poorer areas in return for being able to do business in the wealthier parts of town, and allow companies to charge web sites like this one for allowing content or email to reach users. We called attention to the acceptance of a million dollar donation by a tentacle of AT&T to a not for profit organization associated with the congressman.

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