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Cable Companies Duped Community Groups Into Fighting Net Neutrality 170

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-need-to-read-the-fine-print dept.
walterbyrd (182728) writes Last week, it transpired that the big cable companies were bankrolling fake consumer groups like Broadband for America and The American Consumer Institute. These 'independent consumer advocacy groups' are, in truth, nothing of the sort, and instead represent the interests of its benefactors, in the fight against net neutrality. If that wasn't bad enough, VICE is now reporting that several of the real community groups (and an Ohio bed-and-breakfast) that were signed up as supporters of Broadband for America were either duped into joining, or were signed up to the cause without their consent or knowledge.
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Cable Companies Duped Community Groups Into Fighting Net Neutrality

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I guess these were the same people who signed petitions against DHMO

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2014 @05:40AM (#47220435)

    where the fuck is the alacarte programming options? you bribed the fcc into allowing you to encrypt all video signals and go all-digital.. so now that every customer must have a company-provided receiver, recorder, or cable card... you no longer have ANY EXCUSE for not offering what customers demand -- the ability to pick-and-choose each individual channel or network they want and to only pay for those and not the hundreds of others which are pure junk and would never stand on their own if their existence depended upon viewer choice.

    (satellite companies have nothing standing in THEIR way, either, for offering alacarte programming)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:30AM (#47220541)
      I can get all the shows I want without paying any premium or renting their shitty hardware, and they can't do anything about it ;)

      Take whatever you can get from them, my friend. They'll certainly take all they can from you.
    • by C0R1D4N (970153) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:42AM (#47220759)
      More popular stations help subsidize the cost of less popular more niche stations. Also, a la carte wouldn't help your bill; the pricing for a la carte would ensure that you are still paying as much or more than you are for bundled tv.
      • by plover (150551)

        I don't want any of my money going to Faux News or any other Murdoch property. Without a la carte pricing, a portion of my cable bill funds those bastards. Today I can't change that unless I drop cable entirely, which means giving up Game of Thrones, so screw that.

        • Have you looked at Now TV? [nowtv.com]

          Sky channels without the cruft.
        • by rk (6314)

          unless I drop cable entirely, which means giving up Game of Thrones, so screw that.

          Oh, the horror! I guess not supporting Fox News isn't really that important after all.

      • by fropenn (1116699)
        This reasoning makes no sense. If it's a niche market, then there are other ways of reaching that market than making the masses pay for it. (Have they, perhaps, heard of the internet?) Further, I am guessing that most niche channels make their profit off advertising, not subscriber fees. So they would have a very low (or even negative) monthly cost to subscribers. These niche channels could even be "sweeteners" that the cable companies offer as a competitive advantage over each other.
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        More popular stations help subsidize the cost of less popular more niche stations. Also, a la carte wouldn't help your bill; the pricing for a la carte would ensure that you are still paying as much or more than you are for bundled tv.

        Actually, stations HAVE been moving to a la carte offerings. If you pay attention, a lot of stations which used to put their popular shows on one network and have speciality channels have been shoving their popular shows onto the lesser channels.

        This means that the consumer no

      • by AK Marc (707885)

        Also, a la carte wouldn't help your bill; the pricing for a la carte would ensure that you are still paying as much or more than you are for bundled tv.

        You are looking at it the wrong way. A la carte pricing wouldn't cut the "average" bill, but would give me the power to control my own bill. So *MY* bill would be cut, even if the average one wouldn't be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Desler (1608317)

      They have plenty of excuse:

      1) We don't want to. Fuck you.
      2) We don't want to. Fuck you.
      3) We don't want to. Fuck you.

      And lastly: We don't want to. Fuck you.

      What benefit does alacarte give the cable companies that they would provide it?

    • it's the only thing the cable & satellite companies will understand - basically cut the cord and buy your content à la cart on DVD, blu-ray, or a streaming service.

      I set up a Mac mini DVR at the end of 2012 for off-the-air content - based on my last scan there's 115 channels [atariage.com] available via antenna here in Houston. Once I got everything working (my HDTV predates HDMI so I had to get a solution to convert HDMI to Component Video [atariage.com]) I then cancelled DirecTV in January of 2013. I buy cable series on

  • by nimbius (983462) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @05:44AM (#47220445) Homepage
    other things that are known to happen in american democracy with seemingly little if any recourse:

    Oil company dupes community groups into fighting EPA regulations
    Major food company dupes citizens into fighting a tax on soda
    Cigarette company dupes consumers into thinking smoking is a right, not a crippling addiction
    President dupes country into fighting country with no WMD's
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually none of that happened.
      People weren't duped. What happened was that paid shills posed as communities fighting those things.
      There isn't a community thinking that Snowden is a traitor and that we don't need more insight into what NSA does. There are however a couple of shills that wants to create that appearance.
      No-one is duped by it, but politicians who wants it that way will point at the shills and say "Look what the community wants."
      It works the same way like staging a riot just to motivate using f

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:31AM (#47220547) Journal
        Arguably, it's a bit of a hybrid phenomenon: neither pure misinformation nor pure purchase:

        A large number of these assorted 'community' interest groups; are both relatively impecunious and relatively minimally informed, or interested, in the details of issues outside their mission area. It would be relatively trivial to, say, tell the group representing rural hospitals in Texas (one of the ones mentioned in TFA) that what's good for Comcast is good for rural internet access (this might even be true, since a time-honored technique for bargaining with the FCC is to promise to provide coverage to some totally uneconomic rural areas in exchange for the right to squeeze the much more numerous customers in some more profitable and denser markets. Going all the way back to the Communications Act of 1934, telling the FCC that you'll wire Podunkistan is approximately the equivalent of telling them that you love them for who they are, and generally about as honest.)

        It is also the case that telcos and cable outfits, as with most large corporations, have 'philanthropic' arms, and here the 'bought and paid for' aspect takes on a greater role than the 'duped'. Some outfit that does gang-prevention for at-risk youth or some similar more-or-less-unrelated-to-broadband mission really has no business signing up pro or con; but if their operating budget is peanuts, and Comcast is kicking in part of it, it would be only polite to return the favor, no?

        The one other aspect to keep in mind, specifically with telcos and cable companies, is the role of their employee structure: If you want to build infrastructure, nationwide, you need a lot of workers, including a lot of blue collar, tradesmen, and the like. Even if, in the long run, those workers might be better off in a more competitive climate(more laying cable and new service rollouts, which benefit the linesmen and splicers and bucket trucks, less buying fancy appliances from Cisco and Sandvine to wring more revenue out of legacy infrastructure), those workers can still answer "What has Comcast done for me?" a lot more easily than "What has Netflix done for me?", or any of the other internet-using companies, who tend to have relatively small, largely high-skill white collar, employee bases concentrated in a few specific locations.

        This 'roots in the community' aspect is a nontrivial advantage: Somebody like Google or Netflix has customers in the community; but customers tend to be disorganized, and to perceive only small benefits, per company(though public backlash on net neutrality has been fairly strong, by the standards of policy wonkery, so they aren't totally ignorant of the value of the internet); but they only have employees, presence, relationships with local charities and Little League teams and such, in a few specific areas, if at all. A cable company or telco, though, has (although the name on the HQ may have changed a few times) been employing linesmen, trenchers, and service, maintenance, and field-tech people of all levels from 'guy with shovel' up through 'skilled tradesman' and 'local guru on freak issues with cable head-ends' for decades, and a fair few of them: Cable started rolling out ~1950, POTS predates 1900. Unless you are an utter failure at PR, or just a real, real, asshole, turning that into relatively broad-based influence over local 'good causes' should be an easy and natural process, however counterproductive you are to the long term interests of your customers.
      • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:18AM (#47220961) Homepage

        Hello, there. I'm part of that community you deny exists.

        I think Snowden did something damned near treason. It's obvious that he broke the law and jeopardized aspects of national security, but the issue of mens rea is still in question. No evidence has been presented (other than his word and the government's assertions) that he was or was not acting for the benefit of society. Resolving that question is one of the primary functions of a trial, which is why I think a trial should be held. As it stands now, the victim of a crime has been denied due process, and the Slashdot hivemind is happy about it.

        I also think smoking is a right, in the more general case that I believe people should be permitted to mutilate their bodies however they wish, at whatever personal expense they wish. That might mean using alcohol or other drugs, or engaging in risky behaviors like skydiving, automobile racing, or bacon eating. However, I also believe their costs to society should be suitably offset so that their choices do not cause harm to society as a whole, and their damaging activities should be isolated appropriately so that uninvolved bystanders cannot be harmed.

        I'm not a paid shill. I just think a little bit before jumping on board with everything the dear hivemind thinks.

        • by Pope (17780)

          I also think smoking is a right, in the more general case that I believe people should be permitted to mutilate their bodies however they wish, at whatever personal expense they wish.

          You do NOT have a "right" to smoke.
          You have the right to CHOOSE to engage in risky behaviour.
          Do not conflate the two, as they are not the same thing.

        • by RyoShin (610051)

          I'm not a paid shill.

          Then you are naive, at best. Even if he came back to the states today, there is no possible way for him to get a fair trial. It would be a huge miracle for such a trial to even be public, given our government.

          Consider that it took one person eight years to get taken off the no-fly list [pbs.org] after being put on for what is reportedly a government mistake. Part of the reason (if not the entire reason) for that was the continued insistence by the Justice Department that they couldn't reveal why

        • Snowden committed a crime to expose a MUCH GREATER crime. He's a hero, and a patriot. He loves the country, not the government, no the administration. He sacrificed for you, and for me. He should get a FAIR trial, by a jury of his peers, and all the evidence should be exposed to public scrutiny.
          • by Sarten-X (1102295)

            So people keep telling me...

            He loves the country, not the government, no[t] the administration

            How are you so sure of that? He could have just been bought off by Russia, and been paid enough to become a martyr. Are you privy to his inner thoughts?

            He sacrificed for you, and for me.

            So he claims... but what actual evidence do we have of this? What was the state of his financial affairs before and after his leak? What about romance? Family politics? There are many reasons why someone will choose to reveal secrets. Of course, they always claim it's for the greater good.

            He should get a FAIR trial, by a jury of his peers, and all the evidence should be exposed to public scrutiny.

            Well, sort of. A fair trial, certainly. Ho

        • rE SMOKING IS A RIGHT. In a single payer system, the medical costs of curing smoker related diseases is way out of proportion to the world of non-smokers. I wouñd like to see a law that stipulates "if you have smoked in the last 5 years, you are denied medical coverage for consequential illnesses. Got cancer because of smoking? Got money for treatment? No! Too bad. You as a smoker abused the system. Don't come begging.

      • by hey! (33014)

        Well, you're missing an important dynamic here, which is groupthink.

        When people decide whether something is true or false, right or wrong, the first thing they do is look around to see what other people think. And this is actually not a bad heuristic. Sometimes when you're in jail for civil disobedience it's because you are, in Thoreau's words, "a man more right than his neighbnors". But most of the time it's because you're a mule-headed crackpot. You should at least consider the possibility that if ever

    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:32AM (#47220707)

      Cigarette company dupes consumers into thinking smoking is a right, not a crippling addiction

      Why can't it be both?

    • other things that are known to happen in american democracy with seemingly little if any recourse: Oil company dupes community groups into fighting EPA regulations Major food company dupes citizens into fighting a tax on soda Cigarette company dupes consumers into thinking smoking is a right, not a crippling addiction President dupes country into fighting country with no WMD's

      No kidding......it looks like there would be some kind of FRAUD statute being violated with this nonsense (i.e. astroturfing)...

      • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:54AM (#47220823) Homepage

        Or at least some consumer protection law which prevents companies from engaging in blatantly deceptive marketing campaigns.

        However, fake 'grassroots' foundations seems to have become the norm.

        • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:21AM (#47220975)

          Along with corporate "astroturfing" in the blogs and message boards of various sorts, I'm afraid. We've never been completely free from concealed or fraudulent advertising, but the fake "grassroots" campaigns have gotten out of hand. Even the "Tea Party" was apparently founded as an astroturf campain, with the concealed funding by Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers. The Guardian did an excellent article about it at http://www.theguardian.com/com... [theguardian.com]: it might have been very, very difficult to print that in any of the Rupert Murdoch owned American newspapers.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Meh, in this case who cares. Comcast et al are wildly outnumbered. Every company that benefits by the internet and those costs savings and profits best served by net neutrality are in a position to lobby politicians to ensure they get net neutrality. We are talking less than ten corporations attempting to take on tens of thousands of corporations.

          It is all rather easy. All those CIOs and tech support types need to do is remind management what comes under risk with loss of net neutrality. Now broadband bu

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            I am less optimistic about the outcome of that than you are.

            Because these ten corporations are huge.

            And, let's face it, when the head of the FCC is a former lobbyist for them, the deck is already stacked in their favor.

            • by rtb61 (674572)

              I don't think you realise the severity of the risk. Major ISP will monitor all communications, which means buried in the back office, they will monitor insider information of other corporations to gain investor advantage. They will monitor all communications to enable the theft of patentable ideas that companies are working on. The will monitor all communications to gain business intelligence and competitive advantage. They will be able to selective slow and delete communications at critical junctures like

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But that's exactly what Jesus had in mind when he invented the glorious system of capitalism! (beware of sarcasm)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is a common tactic used by companies more than what you think.
      An retired oil exec told me once.
      There was a guy in Texas who had a monopoly on selling propane gas to consumers for heating etc. A natural gas company wanted to run pipes to the consumers. However, the local monopoly guy didn't want this competition. Solution. Create your own environmental group in which he was the president. Sue the natural gas company on envionmental and EPA grounds. Force them to do environmental studies, hold neighborho

  • New Normal in lobbying:

    1. Get paid to lobby
    2. Invent supporters
    3. Profit!

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:01AM (#47220491) Journal
    I think that bringing broadband to America would be pretty cool. I've heard good things about it...very slowly... from parts of the world that do have it, and it seems like we really ought to as well.

    I'm just confused about why Comcast, of all people, would be in charge of operating such an initiative, given their apparent opposition to good internet connections...
    • The economics of pervasive broadband get quite strange. Doing cable based connections _as well as_ fiber _as well as_ DSL means a great deal of expensive, replicated infrastructure, and the installers arguing over space and time to run or repair their connections in very limited physical conduit strung between locations. Every time one of them needs to open up a conduit to upgrade or replace the physical layer they're putting every one else's connections at risk. It's an inevitable source of conflict among

  • Maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2014 @06:18AM (#47220519)

    More investigative journalism is the shot in the arm that America needs right now and maybe Snowden did a good thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Except 1) No US paper would listen to Snowden 'forcing' him to go to the Guardian UK. 2) It's not 'investigative journalism' when someone hands the reporter everything he needs... it's just lazy journalism as usual. Except in this case the reporter gets a book deal too.
  • Sue them! They are asking for a Class Action and a "media circus" exposure. Don't be lenient with these deceiving bastards.
  • I know Comcast would never do anything sneaky, shitty, or otherwise underhanded; so this must be either a huge misunderstanding or what's really the best for us all. Comcast knows best!
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @07:47AM (#47220785) Homepage

    Oh, right, of course ... corporations are people with free speech, and entitled to actively lie to us.

    Right, that totally makes sense.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget, fox news sued for their right-to-knowingly-lie and won in court.....

    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:09AM (#47220893)

      Oh, right, of course ... corporations are people with free speech, and entitled to actively lie to us.

      What? That is utter nonsense. Corporations are not people!

      Corporations are "Very Rich People". A class with little or no relation to "people".

      VRPs have the inalienable right to do whatever they very much please and it is legal by Axiom*.

      *: The axiom being: "Legal is what very rich people decide it is at any given point."

  • Google and Netflix fund many of the NGOs that claim to be for freedom, privacy and -- surprise, surprise-- net neutrality. This is a battle between billionaires and the cable companies aren't the only billionaires in the game.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      So which, specifically, of those NGOs funded by Google and Netflix list as their members organizations that have not actually ever heard of the NGO in question?

  • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:01AM (#47220851)
    Thanks for really screwing up the promise of the Great Internet! Worldwide connectedness, people around the globe coming together, mutual sharing of ideas, peace and love, etcetera. And the internet had such promise, in the beginning.

    Now, it's just a way to eavesdrop on us, track all we do and where we go. I know there are many smart nerds out there still fighting the good fight for freedom, but it seems it's not enough to hold back the ones who think controlling the populace through technology is their God given right as Masters Of The Universe.

    • That's a pretty broad brush you're painting with. Careful not to get any on you, nerd.

      • You're damned right that I'm using a broad brush here. I'm using it because it applies broadly. Where have God-damned morals gone? Just because someone can code on a computer does not exempt them from being moral. Just because someone pays a brilliant programmer to insert code that does not serve the greater good of humanity does not mean that programmer can just ignore the possible damage his program will inflict upon his fellow human beings.

        But as long as that programmer's getting paid, it's okay, right

        • To quote Roger Waters from Amused to Death:

          When the sleigh is heavy
          And the timber wolves are getting bold
          You look at you companions
          And test the water of their friendship
          With your toe
          They significantly edge
          Closer to the gold
          Each man has his price Bob
          And yours was pretty low

  • by Vermonter (2683811) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:12AM (#47220907)
    I really, really want to be against net neutrality, because free market and such, but when I look at Time Warner and Comcast, they are the best argument *for* net neutrality. I guess it comes down to who I trust more, the government, or the cable companies.... and it's kind of a tie at zero... Now if the FCC would decide that the infrastructure could be used by startups, allowing for actual competition, then we might get somewhere.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @09:00AM (#47221245) Homepage

      I really, really want to be against net neutrality, because free market and such

      Well, then let me disabuse you of that notion.

      There is no 'free' market, and there never has been. The 'free' market is predicated on the belief that all players will act honestly, and make informed choices based on available information. This is a completely false assumption, and has been proven so time after time.

      It completely ignores human nature whereby someone will always lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their own ends -- this is what we see here.

      Industry players will always form cartels and collude in anti-consumer behavior -- price fixing being the prime example.

      Without someone to keep corporations in line, the market would steadily skew to all of the power being in the hands of a few.

      There is no such thing as a 'free' market, and there simply never has been. It's a utopian myth which can never be true.

      People who go around spouting about the 'free' market are either naive, self deluded, or actively lying.

      What proponents want is a situation in which corporations are free to do as they choose, under the premise that, in the long run, consumers will have perfect information and be able to make informed choices.

      A 'free' market is incapable of addressing things like pollution, product safety, and ethical behavior. In fact, it's almost designed to encourage it.

      When Adam Smith wrote "Wealth of Nations", he wasn't writing a rule book, he was making a series of observations. The problem is things have become so skewed, that what we see is an ever-increasing trend where corporations hold all the cards.

      Governments who actively support de-regulation have been putting more and more power into the hands of corporations. By allowing industries to 'police' themselves (which isn't what actually happens) they can do as they see fit, for their gain, and to our detriment.

      Economics isn't a science, and it isn't based in fact. It is an ideology of how things should work assuming impossible conditions and premises. And, like all ideologies, it is inherently blind to its own flaws, and taken as a matter of dogma to be true.

      Taking steps towards a 'free' market has the net effect of removing restrictions on corporations -- which are typically there because we've already seen examples of grossly bad behavior.

      The US has been steadily creating (and forcing other countries to adopt) a global oligarchy whereby the corporations call all of the shots. For instance, the TTIP [opendemocracy.net]:

      The consultation has been called largely to assuage growing pressure from civil society groups concerned about the rights being granted to corporations under the guise of âinvestor protectionsâ(TM), and the system of private tribunals - the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism - that allows corporations to sue governments when they feel that these rights have been breached by a government policy or court decision.

      Basically, governments are no longer free to set evidence based policy if it would impact the bottom line of corporations which are the ones causing harm in the first place. They can be over-ridden by these private tribunals which exist to protect the interests of investors and corporations, to the detriment of the rest of us.

      This is an oligarchy, and definitely NOT a free market. You could not transition from an oligarchy to a 'free' market by simply removing the laws and regulations governing corporations -- this would not magically create a free market, it simply removes their obligations to society, and frees them to do as they please.

      The free market is a complete and utter myth. It has never existed. And the reason society has had to develop laws and regulations around their behavio

      • by bjk002 (757977)

        I need mod points!!!

      • The 'free' market is predicated on the belief that all players will act honestly, and make informed choices based on available information.

        A fairly significant nit-pick: the free market, as described by Adam Smith and associated with the invisible hand of the free market, is predicated on two things:
        1) Zero cost of entry into a market
        2) Perfect information about each entrant into the market is available to all consumers at all time.

        The closest thing to a market with zero cost of entry we have is lemonade stands and websites, and perfect information does not, will not, and cannot exist. Comcast is working very hard to significantly raise the co

      • Brilliant!
    • by Petron (1771156)

      It would be nice if there was a free market. If there was, there would be no need for net neutrality.

      But instead of a free market, we have a heavily regulated, crony-capitalism controlled market, where cable companies work deals with metro areas to be the only providers in town, then they use their government-approved monopoly to screw over the average person.... and to promote the re-election of those whose efforts promoted their control.

      Hmm What was the FCC Chair's previous job....

      If we had a free market

  • by barlevg (2111272) on Thursday June 12, 2014 @08:14AM (#47220927)
    oblig. FoxTrot [foxtrot.com]
  • I had to check if my HOA had been duped too, because this is just the type of thing they would do. They're not on the list, but if anyone else is interested they should check the list [broadbandforamerica.com] themselves to see if any groups they're members of are on it.

  • When someone on the street asks me to sign a petition, the answer is always no. It doesn't matter how worthy the stated cause is:

    - Free, nutritious school lunches for whales
    - Not grinding minorities into paste at the border
    - Municipal high-speed internet

    You don't know what you are really signing until you read the fine print, and the fine print under the fine print.

  • by Chewbacon (797801)

    Is there more to this story that doesn't make it fraud?

  • This reminds me of something one of my friends told me about signing up for facebook in the early days.

    He had created an account, and started following a few famous actors and such, then lost interest in it for a while because nobody really used it yet.

    Later, when it became popular, he decided to log in again. In his news feed was the strangest stuff being posted by one of the actors he was following.

    The profile was called "The Tony Danza". He had thought he was following the profile of the actor at the tim

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