Telco Sock Puppet Picks Clinton As Best of Bad Field, Worries That Martin Has “Lost His Way.”

Occasionally, folks at industry trade conferences make the mistake of forgetting that press are there and say what they are actually thinking. In fairness, most of these guys probably figure that trade press isn’t really press and who the heck reads Communications Daily anyway? After all, it’s not available online.

Heh heh heh.

I cannot provide an internet link or copy the entire relevant section without violating copyright. Nor would I want to do so. The folks at Comm Daily do good reporting, and if they chose not to make this stuff available online, so be it. Happily, however, principles of fair use allow me to report here a rather interesting story from the Wednesday March 12, 2008 edition (pages 7-8). David McClure, President of the United States Internet Industry Association, addressed his fellow telecom industry buddies at a conference in Monterey Califonia, where he had some very interesting things to say (for me at least) about his personal pick for the White House in 2008 (hint: It’s not Obama) and his opinions about Kevin Martin — the supposedly wholly owned telco asset.

More below . . . .

For those just tuning in, USIIA is a trade association dominated by the ISP arm of the Bells. Back in ye ancient days, when independent ISPs roamed the nation in vast herds deploying dial up and marketing to all and sundry (or, as PFF President Ken Ferre told me at the Von TV debate, “the bad old days”), FCC regulations required that incumbent telcos (or “ILECS”) could only offer ISP service through a separate affiliate. Since the independent ISPs didn’t really want to share a club with the ISPs affiliated with their major rivals, the Bell ISPs went off and formed their own trade association. Thus was born USIIA. Even now, when most other ISPs have been successfully exterminated, the Bells still find it useful to maintain USIIA as an apparently independent trade association representing the broader ISP industry as a whole.
(I expect I’ll get some angry denials, but USIIA always, always, always agrees with the Bell position — whatever it is. So you be the judge.)

Mind you, I have nothing against the Bells having a trade association for their ISPs and anyone else who wants to join. But for purposes of this blog post, it is rather important to understand what USIIA is and whom they represent. As you might imagine, I regard the USIIA endorsement of a candidate or position with the same suspicion that Conservative “value voters” show toward an endorsement by GLAD. So my attention was quite arrested by this paragraph:

“I think it will be Hilary Clinton, I hate to say,” said McClure. “But Barak Obama has come out endorsing all the looney-tunes” liberal proposals like network neutrality, he added, calling Clinton industry’s best choice. “Hilary understands telecom…she’s backed our industry on a number of initiatives in Congress, probably more than John McCain.” A show of hands in the audience had elicited no support for either Democrat and less than half for McCain.

In fairness to Clinton, this is a pretty weak endorsement. Further, the only times I can think of that Clinton has backed telecom “initiatives in Congress” are support for the Connected Nation bill (which has considerably broader support than just the telcos and about which I am pretty neutral (although I am aware my friend Art Brodsky feels differently). Clinton also wrote a letter to the FCC supporting the proposal to end exclusive cable contracts with apartment buildings (called “mdu” for “multiple dwelling unit”) and developers. But so did we at MAP (along with Consumer’s Union and some other groups), and Clinton is the Senator from New York, which includes New York City for whom access to MDUs by competing services is a pretty big deal. Also, although McClure seems unaware of it, Clinton joined with Obama in Co-sponsoring the Dorgan-Snowe Net Neutrality Bill pending in the Senate.

Still, it is disturbing to hear that someone like David McClure considers Clinton superior to McCain (whom McClure worries “waffles” on telecom issues and would therefore be an uncertain ally), although pleasant to hear his “negative endorsement” of Obama (given my previous endorsement) as embracing us “looney tunes” and thus utterly unacceptable to industry. To use the vernacular of recent days, I would hope that Clinton will both “denounce” and “reject” this half-hearted endorsement by a major industry sock puppet. It is difficult to reconcile her recent commitment to Edwards-style struggle against entrenched corporate interests when the chief spokesman for one of the very lobbying cabals Clinton says she will oppose tooth and nail is telling his fellow entrenched industry lobbyists “of the three choices out there, she’s probably the best one for us.”

Meanwhile, what do McClure and his other Telco buddies think of Kevin Martin these days — their supposed “man in Washington?” To judge from the CommDaily piece, they seem rather worried that Martin has gone all public interest on them. Hands-Off-the-Net attorney Christopher Wolf is apparently “worried” by news stories that Martin will require better ISP notice of network management practices and warn against differential treatment of applications or services. McClure was even more explicit in his confusion over Martin’s recent pro-consumer stance.

Martin “was leading the charge to do away with regulation in telecom” but then “got confused,” McClure said. The Chairman seems to have “mislaid his lunch somewhere,” he said.

Again, I’m sure McClure’s confusion and unhappiness will hardly convince Martin’s legion of critics that Martin is not some telco shill pursuing an endless grudge against the cable cos. But I find it reassuring to see McClure and other telco boosters scratching their heads and wondering what the heck happened to all that beautiful deregulation they expected.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. Hmmm, isn’t it odd how much corporate America loves them some Hillary? I mean all that anti-plutocratic rhetoric must mean something. You don’t suppose there’s some ‘wink, wink’ do you?

  2. Harold, as you know, McClure came out of the consumer movement (yes, he did)and still maintains ties to certain consumer advocacy groups. I would not be surprised if he is a Democrat and dislikes the social and religious conservatives in the Republican party. Therefore it is not surprising that he would try to spin support for one of the Democrats. I think it more meaningful that none of his listeners agreed with his basic thesis.

  3. Actually, I was unaware of McClure’s background before his joining USIIA. And yeah, it could well be that he likes Clinton for reasons having nothing to do with whether she will back telecom positions on net neutrality (despite her co-sponsoring Dorgan-Snowe) or even because she sided with telcos against cable on the MDU thing.

    Not definitive, but vaguely troubling.

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