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Crack Open and Crowdsource AT&T's Anti-Net Neutrality Campaign

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Let's take a little tour to see what real lobbying looks like, up close and personal as they used to say on TV. It's one thing to read about the massive lobbying power that industries have. It's in the news every day. There are stories about how much money the big pharmaceutical companies are spending, and certainly there are tales about the heavy pressure the health insurance lobby is bringing during the current health care debate.

It's all minor league compared to the telephone industry. Read on and you will get a first-hand look at the power of a real major league lobbying organization. It's not only the money and influence they generate in Washington, although they certainly do that. So do many other special interest groups, like big pharma and insurance. The power of the telephone lobby lies in the power and influence they generate outside of Washington.

Telephone company representatives are in every Congressional district. They are in or around most communities. They are the ones who buy the tables at the Chamber of Commerce dinners, and the uniforms for the Little League. They support community organizations and know everyone in the Rotary Club. And when it comes time that the friendly AT&T or Verizon managers need a little favor from a local business person or public official, say to send a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about a proposal that could harm that favorite local company, well the people are happy to oblige. That was the basis of the unprecedented barrage that spooked the FCC in the weeks leading up to the Commission's October 22 meeting at which the Commission voted to approve proposed rules on a non-discriminatory Internet, which included letters from chambers of commerce, public officials, local businesses, retirees, among others. What other lobby could get the Graham Transfer and Storage Company of Meridian, MS, to send a letter opposing Net Neutrality as an example of a small business?

AT&T said that it would be a mistake to assume all the people sending in letters are uninformed, and that they are concerned about jobs and the economy. The local people need to be filled in on the issue.

One of those who sent a letter was Howell Moss, the mayor of Marion County, TN. Moss wrote the FCC, warning that Net Neutrality could jeopardize investment and innovation in these "dangerous economic times." In an interview, Moss said that the local AT&T representative explained to him that under Net Neutrality, "they would not be treated fairly in Internet and broadband." Moss said that he was told Net Neutrality would "prevent AT&T from providing us with services" and would "not allow them to compete." AT&T asked him to write a letter on the company's behalf, Moss said, and he did. AT&T (the former BellSouth) "has done a lot of favors in this county," Moss said.

Moss's letter looks a lot like many others, like this one from Sock Enterprises of Biloxi, MS. The owner, Karen Sock, said she had a close friend who works with AT&T and who learned about Net Neutrality at a local Gulf Coast Business Council meeting.

AT&T wants to make sure that their letter writers get the message right, so the company representatives provided form letters and talking points, like this one aimed at minority communities.

Those are just a couple of similar letters. Here are a couple more of the many in the docket:

Missippi State Senator Joey Fillingane;

The Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce;

The mayor of Coffee County, TN.

Still, there is the question of how Net Neutrality could affect the residents of Marion County or Biloxi. Would a small business owner in either of those places want to reach their customers easily online, or would they prefer to be shoved aside in a non-neutral network in which the big companies pay extra for transmission to put aside the little guys.

That's a good question, one you should ask. A little while ago, we promised you an up close and personal look at the power of local lobbying. Here's how you do it, and what you can do.

Go to FCC.gov. Click on "search" on the Commission task bar at the top of the page.

Scroll down to the sixth link on the page: Search for Filed Comments - ECFS

Click the first link - "search for filings."

In the first box, "proceeding" type in 07-52

Scroll to the end of the page and click the "search for comments" box

When the list comes up, go to the "view" box in the upper right part of the screen and change the format to "expand."

Don't be daunted by all of the documents. You don't want them all.

Scroll down and see who filed. Marvel at the volume and variety. Then pick a couple that look interesting to you - maybe they are from a legislator or other public official in your state. Maybe they are from an affinity group or other that claims to represent you. Get in touch with the person who filed the letter (or group which filed) and ask them - Why did your company/group file this letter? Why are you against playing fair with Internet users? How can that fairness possibly hurt investment or cost jobs? Then tell them you want a neutral Internet. Let's not do that with private citizens who filed comments, please, unless you know them personally.

One last step. Go back to the Comments home page. Go to the express "submit a filing" link.

Click on the "click here" link, fill in 09-191 (the new Net Neutrality docket) and tell the FCC why we need an open Internet.

Let your voice be heard.

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