Monday, May 15, 2006

Telcos Seek to Deceive Bloggers with Cartoon

Coming to a blog near you is a telecom-sponsored advertisement dressed up as an underground cartoon. It's the latest in the ongoing campaign by large phone companies to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public.The cartoon is a product of a front group funded by AT&T and BellSouth.

The group, Hands Off the Internet, is headed by Mike McCurry, the former Clinton Press Secretary who has been widely discredited for selling out his integrity to become the telephone industry's spokesmodel.McCurry's group is now attempting to buy its way into the blogosphere, spending tens of thousands of dollars on a misinformation campaign against network neutrality -- the principle that keeps the Internet free and open to all.

The ad and the animation it links to are an example of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness" in action. Telco giants cloak their real interests behind a populist message that sounds plausible, while undermining the work of genuine public and consumer advocates.No where throughout this propaganda do they identify the nation’s largest telecom companies as the money behind the production. Instead, they dress up as an authentically amateur effort -- complete with hand-drawn cartoons, a scraggly, counter-culture net-guy as protagonist and a David vs. Goliath subtext.

They frame the issue as pitting corporations against the people, the rich guy against you, and bureaucracy against the free market. They even give the URL a “dot-org” tag to cover their corporate tracks.

They paint the SavetheInternet coalition as seeking drastic regulation of the Internet. In fact, this group of more than 500 organizations, bloggers, educators and small businesses is asking only that Congress preserve Net Neutrality, the guiding principle that has kept the Internet free and open since its beginning.It is AT&T and BellSouth that are asking Congress to radically re-regulate the Internet by stripping Net Neutrality from the wires. It's the largest phone and cable corporations -- with their monopoly control of broadband access across more than 50 percent of America -- that pose the biggest threat to the free and fair enterprise and democratic discourse. (These are the same companies have handed over to the National Security Agency the personal phone logs of tens of millions of ordinary Americans -- a betrayal of their customer privacy agreements. Now, they want us to entrust them with the Internet?).

Without Net Neutrality protections, companies like AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon will swoop in to dismantle Internet diversity in favor of websites that pay their tax for speed. Industry-supported legislation now before Congress would hand over control of the Internet to these massive telcos, allowing them to set up tollbooths along the onramps and exits of the information superhighway.Shoved to the margins will be the small businesses, open-source innovators, bloggers, independent musicians, political organizers and everyone else who can't afford the toll.

These Web outsiders and upstarts have been the lifeblood of the Internet. Many are already creating their own animations and PSAs to call public attention to AT&T and Verizon's Internet swindle, while coming to the defense of Net Neutrality. While these homegrown videos don't have a big-money ad buy behind them, they are spreading of their own volition across the blogosphere.

This type of grassroots creativity wouldn’t stand a chance under a regime where the largest ISPs limit access to high speed Internet to the companies that pay them the most. McCurry's powerfully deceptive cartoon is a part of this telco scheme. It’s designed to convince bloggers and net users to support a plan that goes against their best interests.

For a frame-by-frame debunking of the telco cartoon, visit

-- Timothy Karr Media Citizen

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