In the run up to next week’s Hidden Net Neutrality Order vote at the FCC, this week professional misanthropes, Free Press, delivered 2 million “signatures” to the agency, urging it to enact “real” Net Neutrality regulations, whatever that means at this nanosecond. Much fanfare was made during their delivery “street theater,” resulting in a lot of free press for Free Press.
But what actually went to the FCC?
What appears on their website, and what appears at the FCC appear to be two different things.
In a two-day marathon, SavetheInternet.com Coalition allies and activists delivered 2 million petitions for real Net Neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission before the close of the public comment period on new FCC rules. The petitions, collected from across the country, urged the FCC to stand up for real Net Neutrality and safeguard the open Internet. The agency is scheduled to vote on its proposed Net Neutrality rules at its Dec. 21 open meeting.
Clicking the link at bottom takes you to here, which looks like:
Hitting the yellow box in the right takes you to the petition, which says:
So far, everything’s fine. But when you hit the FCC’s link for the resulting names (not signatures, BTW) that got filed at the FCC, you get this:
With highlighted text looking like:
Wow! That’s a Comcast merger petition (which relates to this specific docket, MB 10-56), not the petition text presented at the “2 million strong” website.
Was it a bait and switch? Maybe. One thing’s for sure, however – it’s certainly sloppy work. The press should have picked this up immediately. You have to wonder if Free Press had this in the bag for another project (which seems abundantly clear – the filed petitions have nothing to do with the vote on December 21st), and then thought they could easily re-purpose it for this stunt, while getting some slack cut by (or taking advantage of the institutional laziness from) their friends in the media? Who knows?
In a larger sense, does it matter? I think so.
— I can’t see into their blackbox – i.e., the process they’ve used to capture the names – but if this is any indication, I’ve got questions as to what’s real and what isn’t. If what was filed at the FCC was accidental, then only their mental capacity can be impeached. On the other hand, if what was filed at the FCC was willfully wrong, how can one trust that the names in the petition are in fact real; or is it in fact just an amalgam of all the names they’ve collected over these past five years, unrelated to the specific matter.
–Moreover, if Free Press can’t get / chooses not to get this detail right (again, either accidentally or willfully), why would any Commissioner or the press seek their counsel or believe what they have to say? At the very least, they look bumbling. At the worst, they look sneaky, arrogant and / or filled with scienter.
–You are the company you keep. According to press reports, Free Press seemingly has a recidivist bent toward manufacturing consent or mischaracterizing partnerships surrounding their aggressive Net Neutrality lobbying. For those organizations that associated with the “2 Million strong” campaign, this can’t be what one might call a brand builder. Who were their partners in this campaign? Well, this is what Free Press’ website says: New America Foundation, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge, Future of Music Coalition, the Media and Democracy Coalition, Credo Action, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn.org, ColorofChange.org, Common Cause, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Prometheus Radio Project, the Harry Potter Alliance and the Open Source Democracy Foundation.
–Free Press and other non-profits make money and names – valuable data – off of these efforts. The names are key, provided they’re real, of course. More names means more heft, as they have tried to wield here. More names also mean more direct and indirect donations. Most journalists don’t follow non-profits in their business of being non-profits. But it is a business, and a competitive one. Free Press makes much of itself being above this fray, but if this is a bait-and-switch, one which could kite their numbers for competitive advantage, they aren’t really any better than the “evil corporations” they decry. Again, why lend them trust if they’re doing what they decry?
–Can these petitions in fact be entered into the related open Internet dockets? FCC ex parte rules state that a proper ex parte statement is one that is “directed to the merits or outcome of a proceeding, including any attachments to a written communication or documents shown in connection with an oral presentation directed to the merits or outcome of a proceeding.” No matter what was placed in the petition’s header, the merits of the filed documents / petitions look intended for the Comcast / NBCU merger (Docket No. MB 10-56), not the open Internet proceeding itself. At least at first blush, the petitions appear outside of the record, potentially negating their use by the agency when its makes its final decision on Net Neutrality regulations on December 21st.
This should have been a slam-dunk for Free Press. But it looks like they screwed it up. If it’s an accident, then I stand corrected. But if it isn’t, then the press should be all over Free Press, seeking answers as to who, what, where, when, and how this switch occurred. The group plays a significant role in shaping the Net Neutrality debate, among others. Their credibility is on the line.
Res ipsa loquitur – why the disparity in press statements and marketing push when compared with the filed petitions themselves? What does Free Press have to hide?