Cable Industry Lobbyists Write Republican Talking Points on Net Neutrality

By Lee Fang and Nick Surgey

Following the vote last week by the Federal Communication Commission to unwind the net neutrality rules enacted during the Obama administration, House Republican lawmakers received an email from GOP leadership on how to defend the decision. The email was shared with The Intercept and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers must treat all web traffic in the same way. If the FCC eventually undoes the Obama-era regulations in their entirety, an ISP like Comcast could demand that websites pay it fees in order not to slow or block them. Large companies like Facebook would easily be able to afford such charges, but smaller companies might not, creating an uneven playing field.

"Want more information on the net neutrality discussion?" wrote Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference. "Here is a nifty toolkit with news resources, myth vs reality information, what others are saying, and free market comments."

The attached packet of talking points came directly from the cable industry.

The metadata of the document shows it was created by Kerry Landon, the assistant director of industry grassroots at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter, and other cable industry companies. The document was shared with House Republican leaders via "Broadband for America," a nonprofit largely funded by the NCTA.

"The FCC is wisely repealing the reckless decision of its predecessors to regulate competing internet service providers," reads one of the document's talking points. "We rightly protest when governments around the world seek to place political controls over the internet, and the same should apply here in America," according to another.

The document also refers GOP caucus members to quotes they can use from other industry-funded nonprofits to defend the decision to repeal net neutrality through the rollback of Title II reclassification.

To respond to the "myth" that "only internet providers oppose utility regulation," the document suggests citing a number of civil rights organizations that have opposed net neutrality.

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The same groups cited by the talking points, however, are heavily funded by ISP companies, including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, and the group that mobilized certain civil rights leaders to sign onto a campaign against net neutrality has a long history of work on behalf of the cable industry.

"NCTA is one of hundreds of organizations engaged in public policy on communications, technology and media and it is common practice to provide policymakers with information and background on key issues," said Joy Sims, a spokesperson for NCTA. "We are always happy to provide briefings, materials and other information to the media, policymakers and others."

Broadband for America, the cable industry-funded group that passed the document to House Republicans, has long acted as a go-between for cable industry money to flow to allied pundits, lobbyists, and consultants.

The organization has enlisted a bipartisan set of talking heads to speak out against net neutrality. Harold Ford, the former Democratic lawmaker, and John Sununu, the former Republican senator, have been paid handsomely by the group while appearing in the media to warn about the dangers of adopting net neutrality.

Broadband for America has also retained a broad set of consultants to influence the telecom policy debate. The DCI Group, a Republican firm that specializes in "astroturf" campaigns designed to create fake grassroots support for political clients, has been paid at least $8,284,685 since 2012. SKD Knickerbocker, a firm founded by prominent Democrats, has received at least $3.1 million from Broadband for America.

In 2014, Broadband for America touted a lengthy list of allied groups that shared their opposition to net neutrality rules. But many of the groups on the list, including the Ohio chapter of League of Conservation Voters and a radio program dedicated to supporting veterans, said they were added to the list without their knowledge.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


This article first appeared at The Intercept. Image: Fress Press CC BY-NC 2.5

Nick Surgey

Nick Surgey is CMD's Director of Research and an investigative reporter. His work has been featured in The Guardian, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.