Invasion of the Franchise Snatchers

While "attending an open meeting of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities," Bruce Kushnick saw "something odd. Three guys are standing in the back by the exit door and they keep shaking the hands of the speakers, most of whom testified that Verizon should get a new, statewide franchise." The three guys were Verizon employees, and many of the speakers were from groups that receive Verizon funding. Such telecom astroturf is spreading, warns Kushnick. "Groups like Consumers for Cable Choice, TV4US, LULAC and others are popping up all over the country." In Wisconsin, TV4US -- an AT&T astroturf group that retains the PR firm Fleishman-Hillard -- is "backing a bill to deregulate the state's cable TV franchise system," reports Madison's Capital Times newspaper. TV4US recently gave "all 132 state lawmakers ... a thick binder full of the names of constituents" who it says "are demanding an end to the cable monopoly and want choices in the video market." The state bill that TV4US is supporting "would eliminate most local regulation of cable TV franchises in favor of minimal supervision by state agencies." AT&T also hired 16 lobbyists in Wisconsin, including the state Democratic Party chair.