By Bruce Kushnick Apr 29. 2022 | Original Medium article here.
How much money does it take to block a proposed FCC Commissioner from getting appointed? How much money does it take to corrupt our democratic process by the telecommunications companies, AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink that caused the Digital Divide and now want to get rewarded with the new wave of over $100 billion in state and federal government subsidies?
And where are any calls for investigations of these companies by those who would attempt to subvert the process of having a long-standing telecom/internet advocate from potentially holding these companies accountable as FCC Commissioner?
As I sit here reading the daily dose of telecommunications, broadband and internet stories and, of course, about the Digital Divide, I find two headlines of interest, which describe attempts to halt the confirmation of Gigi Sohn as an FCC Commissioner.
The first, by Broadband World News states that a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, is leading the charge and is using a group called One Country to block Ms. Sohn’s nomination.
“Former Dem senator launches campaign to squash Gigi Sohn’s FCC confirmation”,Apr 25,2022
The article details the campaign:
“One Country Project — a Democratic political action committee led by former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, that lobbies federal lawmakers on rural issues — announced that it is launching a ‘six-figure ad campaign aimed at raising awareness that the Biden administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominee, Gigi Sohn, is the wrong choice for the FCC and rural America’.”
The second article is from MarketWatch. It adds that there are other groups on the attack, — including an Hispanic group named “LULAC”, which has stepped in to stop the process. The headline states:
“Broadband companies are spending an ‘unseemly amount of money’ to sink key nominee to FCC, critics allege”, April 26, 2022
Before I continue, let me be very clear: The Biden Plan will fail because of the massive financial takeover of the process by AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and the cable companies. They have already lined many of states’ new Digital Divide agencies with their own lobbyists, nonprofits — and all paid to make sure that these companies get paid, even though they created the Digital Divide by not upgrading their territories over the last 30 years and have been working as a cartel to keep prices inflated.
In fact, we must ‘un-capture’ the FCC, the state agencies, and remove this capturing of regulators. Period. The end.
How bad is it? This should cause the hairs on the back of your head to stand up.
The original Communications Act of 1934 was enacted to, in large part, create the FCC to act as a balancing force to the corporate takeover of our communications by the first AT&T, previously known as Ma Bell (circa turn of the 20th Century through 1984). (This Act was modified by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.)
Senator Sam Rayburn, one of the authors of the 1934 Act stated:
“The American Telephone and Telegraph Company is more powerful and skilled than any state government with which it has to deal.” (1936)
Cybertelecom, a respected telecommunications, internet web site, added this detail about why the FCC was created:
“Government officials, however, wanted a strong expert agency that could counter the size and power of AT&T, Western Union, and other communications firms with significant market power. State governments had become overwhelmed by the resources of AT&T. Communications companies were using their deep pockets to litigate every dispute, repeatedly taking issues that they had lost on up to the Supreme Court — as a means of leveraging their position and extracting what they wanted from local authorities.”
Sound Familiar? This is about 1934, not 2022. They never thought that their new agency, the FCC, would get captured.
In 2022, the attack to block this long-standing advocate, who might start to clean out the regulatory capture we have now — is just another corporate snow job. And based on history, AT&T et al. have always been able to use their resources to get what they wanted, while the public gets shortchanged.
Let’s start with LULAC, who has been sucking on the teat of AT&T et al. for decades and has done everything from attempting to block Net Neutrality to helping the Verizon and AT&T create bogus state-based broadband plans that never upgraded the states to fiber optics, even after they were paid to do so.
According to MarketWatch, LULAC’s opposition started in 2009.
“LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides told MarketWatch that her organization’s opposition to Sohn dates back to 2009, when she was president of Public Knowledge, for comments made by the organization’s director of communications criticizing minority groups for their opposition to net neutrality regulations.”
Back in 2010, Stop the Cap’s article titled Dollar-a-holler-advocacy laid out that LULAC and others groups that should have been fighting for Net Neutrality, betrayed their own Hispanic constituents — because AT&T and Verizon were against it.
Back in 2006 we detailed in Harvard Nieman Watchdog: how the companies had paid off this “Hispanic” minority group, and many others to help push through a series of broadband plans that were nothing more than gifts to the telcos. This is why there is a Digital Divide. AT&T and Verizon were never held accountable and so they left most the rural areas to deteriorate — or to have a bait-and-switch with wireless.
As we wrote, about the deregulation plans in New Jersey to roll out fiber optic services around 2006.
“Verizon New Jersey even set up its own site for this campaign but it seems to have been taken down after Verizon got the laws changed in its favor.
League of United Latin American Citizens, LULAC, wrote rave reviews for Verizon in various op eds.
“The current marketplace for video, without real competition, adversely impacts Latinos,” states one op ed in a Spanish language weekly. LULAC had op-eds and testified in Massachusetts, Texas, New Jersey, and California. And they are very friendly with Verizon and AT&T.
AT&T gave LULAC $1.5 million: ”AT&T Foundation Provides $1.5 Million Technology Access Grant to League of United Latin American Citizens. Grant Builds on Success of LULAC Empower Hispanic America with Technology Initiative,” — June 30, 2006.
The grants are for LULAC in California, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Missouri.
Instead of helping the Hispanic community, LULAC and the other nonprofits, claiming they work for minorities or seniors or low-income families, sold America out and helped the Big Telcos cause the Digital Divide.
The state-based broadband fiber optic networks announced by Verizon and AT&T never showed up. These groups never called for investigations as to why billions of dollars had been charged to low income or Hispanic groups — and it doesn’t do it now.
Then we have One Country and former Senator Heitkamp.
According to Marketwatch, Time Magazine found that One Country’s funding is ‘leftover campaign cash’, and that AT&T and Comcast were top contributors to parts of her political ambitions.
“One Country doesn’t disclose its donors, but Time Magazine reported that Heitkamp used “leftover campaign cash” to start the organization, while AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. were two of the former senators’ top contributors while she was serving in the upper house. One Country didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.”
But what is really telling is that former senator Heitkamp’s 2018 campaign themes as told by the campaign website, mentioned energy, agriculture, seniors and roads — but never mentioned the ‘Digital Divide’.
One Country even has a press releases talking about a 6-figure campaign to block Sohn:
“One Country Project Launches Six-Figure Ad Campaign to Ensure FCC Prioritizes Rural Broadband Expansion and Communities”
And it claims it will do advertisements in West Virginia, a Verizon state, Nevada, an AT&T state, and Colorado and Arizona, a CenturyLink (Lumen) state. Ironically, Heitkamp’s state, North Dakota, isn’t mentioned. But here’s the rub — where is any statement by Heitkamp pertaining to how the Digital Divide was created in the first place? Where are the calls for investigations of how these companies gamed the regulatory system to not properly upgrade their state public telecommunications utilities?
The Digital Divide is also about the fact that the communications prices in America are out of control. Why are we paying 5–20 times more for our wireless and broadband services as compared to overseas? One Country has a rubber-stamped statement that there are all these government subsidies.
The idea that groups are coming out of the woodwork — all of whom want government subsidies to be given instead of actually holding the AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, and the cable companies accountable — is one of the problems.
But real problem is the corporate takeover of the FCC, the state government agencies and then rewarding the companies that screwed us over and over — is in full swing.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed legislation to stop new anti-competitive mergers.
“Today, a handful of giant corporations are dominating countless industries to the detriment of consumers, workers, and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. This worsening economic concentration also distorts our political processes, allowing the biggest and wealthiest firms to rig the rules in their favor.
“Without robust competition, large opportunistic corporations are able to use inflation as a pretext to abuse their pricing power and jack up prices for American consumers at the grocery store, at the gas pump, and at the pharmacy.”
The damage has already been done in telecom. AT&T, Verizon and Centurylink are three non-competing holding companies that were created via incest — the mergers of the ‘Baby Bell siblings’, that should never have been allowed to happen as every merger harmed the states and the citizens in them.
AT&T now controls 21 states and it left their entire wireline telecommunications infrastructure to deteriorate — and along with Verizon, they took over the wireless business. But worse, they also used the budgets of the state utilities to illegally build their wireless and other lines of business — and that is billions per state that should have been used for fiber optic network upgrades.
We need someone at the FCC that is going to make a difference, like Gigi Sohn.
And to LULAC and the other nonprofits — we need to expose your funding sources and remove your non-profit status as you are just another lobbying group funded by the corporations.
If these groups and persons are serious about solving the Digital Divide they should call for investigations in every state of all the billions of dollars collected for broadband that was charged to low income families, rural customers and call to halt all the cross-subsidies.