FCC's New 'Diversity Chair' Has Long History Of Undermining Minority Consumers At Comcast's Behest | Spanlish

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Friday, September 15, 2017

FCC's New 'Diversity Chair' Has Long History Of Undermining Minority Consumers At Comcast's Behest

For years one of the greasier lobbying and PR tactics by the telecom industry has been the hijacking of minority and civil rights groups to help parrot awful policy positions. Historically, such groups are happy to take financing from a company like Comcast, in exchange repeating whatever memos are thrust in their general direction -- even if the policy dramatically harms their constituents. The tactic of creating or "co-opting" such groups helps foster the illusion of broad support for awful, anti-consumer policies, whether that's support for the latest competition-killing merger or support for the assault on net neutrality.

Because this cozy quid pro quo is implied but never put into writing, ISPs traditionally respond with breathless indignance to the mere suggestion they're using minority voices as policy props. But Comcast has found that tactic consistently so successful, a few years back it went so far as to give its top lobbyist, David Cohen, a new title: "Chief Diversity Officer." Said title not only lets Cohen profess the company's unwavering dedication to minorities with one hand while undermining them with the other, but helps him skirt the government's flimsy restrictions on lobbying.

A few weeks back boss Ajit Pai announced the creation of a new "Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment," a group Pai insisted was established to champion the voice of every American, “no matter their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation." But as we've noted before, Pai's breathless support of closing the digital divide is utterly illusory, as his policies (ranging from gutting popular consumer protections to protecting the cable industry's monopoly over the cable box) consistently involve undermining consumer interests while encouraging industry rate hikes.

Pai has appointed Julia Johnson, president of a consulting firm called NetCommunications, to lead the Advisory Committee. Not too surprisingly, The Intercept was quick to highlight how Johnson has a long history of actively undermining minority interests on behalf of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council, a Comcast, AT&T and Verizon funded vessel specifically designed to help provide illusory minority community support for these companies' positions:

"Shortly after Trump named Pai to lead the FCC, the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council — a nonprofit chaired by Johnson and funded by Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telecom firms — released statements praising Pai’s appointment and endorsing his strategy for unwinding the net neutrality protections secured during former President Barack Obama’s administration. MMTC’s pro-Trump administration statements, cast as being made on behalf of communities of color, are typical of Johnson’s approach. Over the years, Johnson has used racial minorities as a cudgel to disingenuously lobby on behalf of industry."

It should go without saying, but mindlessly cheering for competition-killing mega-mergers raises rates and harms consumers -- minority or otherwise. As does advocating for the destruction of popular net neutrality and broadband privacy rules. Such protections, however imperfect, help prevent large, incumbent ISPs from abusing the obvious lack of competition in the broadband market. With little to no competition, we've watched as companies like AT&T have tried to charge users a steep premium for privacy, and companies like Comcast have slowly but surely imposed arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps.

We've also noted how this lack of competition has resulted in a large number of minority communities being left behind completely when it comes to next-generation broadband. Groups like the MMTC and dollar-per-holler allies like Johnson have consistently undermined efforts to actually do something about these problems. And getting them to admit their financial ties to giant ISPs has long proven comical, as Ed Markey found out in a 2006 hearing when he tried to uncover whether Johnson was being paid by the telecom industry to oppose policies aimed at forcing ISPs to expand broadband coverage to disadvantaged areas:

Markey: Is your organization financially supported by the Bell [telephone] companies in any way?

Johnson: No, we’re not.

Markey: At all.

Johnson: Yes, and let me elaborate upon that too. We’re a relatively new organization.

Markey: No, that’s OK. I can go along with that answer. That’s fine. Thank you. And are you compensated in any way by the Bell companies?

Johnson: I have a consulting firm that works for a variety of companies, generally in the regulatory space.

Markey: But are the Bell companies amongst those companies that pay you?

Johnson: Yes.

Traditionally the media hasn't shown much of an interest in connecting what are often fairly-obvious dots, a major reason this disinformation and lobbying tactic has been so successful over the last decade. Knowing this all too well, the FCC appears poised to lean on this tactic heavily as it works to kill net neutrality and eliminate most meaningful oversight of one of the least competitive markets in American industry. All while groups like the MMTC and industry allies like Johnson proclaim that gutting consumer protections will somehow aid the very communities these decisions will harm the most.



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