The ‘Astroturf’ opposition to an AT&T/T-Mobile merger

As the Federal Communications Commission considers the planned merger between cell phone providers AT&T and T-Mobile, a supposed grassroots coalition is fighting the idea on every front. But upon closer inspection, the coalition appears to be anything but grassroots.

Almost immediately after the merger was announced, media reform groups sprang up, websites were created, and advocates came out of the woodwork. But it is all part of a playbook we’ve seen before: an alliance between professional activists and media reform organizations, funded and supported by corporate interests.

Consider the great net neutrality debate of the last decade and the plethora of organizations that acted as key players pushing for the regulations.

NetCoalition was founded in 1999 to be the “public policy voice for some of the world’s most innovative Internet companies on the key legislative and administrative proposals affecting the online world.” It has been funded by Google, IAC/Interactive, Yahoo, and CNET Networks. All of those corporations supported net neutrality.

An anti-copyright coalition called The Digital Freedom campaign was founded in 1996 by the Consumer Electronics Association. Its anchor members include net-neutrality advocates like Public Knowledge, Media Access Project and the New America Foundation.

Then there’s No Choke Points — a coalition founded on behalf of Sprint to oppose wireless telecom companies on special access issues — and Google’s Open Internet Coalition. They, too, count New America Foundation, Media Access Project and Public Knowledge as members.

Other examples of media reform coalitions throughout the years include the Wireless Innovation Alliance, Internet for Everyone, Open Internet Coalition, and Connect Public Safety Now Coalition. All were founded by Google and all, in some form or another, work to “reform” telecoms, cablecoms and other companies involved in accessing, producing, or distributing information.

But these groups have something in common that goes further than just their ideology. Not only can they all be linked back to corporate interests, but they were organized (at least in part) by Maura Corbett — a public affairs professional who recently left Qorvis Communications to start her own firm called the Glen Echo Group. When she left, she also took Google, Sprint, and the Connect Public Safety Now coalition with her as clients.

While at Qorvis, Corbett’s client list included Google and Sprint — both backers of net neutrality. Moreover, while Corbett handled Google and Sprint, she also had a hand in the formation of the coalitions and groups that advocated for policies that supported the interests of her corporate clients.

Corbett was media spokesperson for Net Coalition, No Choke Points and Digital Freedom Campaign. She also managed the Wireless Innovation Alliance, and her biography is listed on the website for Internet for Everyone.

The Open Internet Coalition was managed by Qorvis’ Katie Barr, who later left the company to join Corbett at the Glen Echo Group.

The alliance between media reform coalitions and corporate interests is part of a playbook being followed again to oppose the AT&T – T-Mobile merger. And once again, Corbett is playing a part.

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  • CubsFan01

    Isn’t it standard operating procedure for “reporters” to call the subject of the story for comment before printing? It doesn’t appear that she did.
    And, what exactly is the story here? That public interest groups and corporate interests are sometimes on the same side? That public affairs specialists are hired to generate support for an issue? I’m sure AT&T and T-Mobile have an army of PR and lobbyists working just as hard to get this merger through. Awful reporting.

  • jonathan galt

    This merger would not even give Att 50% of the market. Somewhere, the meaning of monopoly has been lost. Duopoly does not even fit. It simply is not the government’s business. For that matter, do you really trust politicians to tell us what is “good” for business- check their track record. Should we break up google who owns a much larger percentage of the search market. Fed ex and ups are duopolies by this standard. Boeing and Airbus are out of control too. The NBA gotta go. Reardon steel is raping America. Come on people wake up. If you want to break up something, and I do not, the UAW has a lock on auto workers and negotiated against the big three as a block for decades.

  • DEK46656

    If life were so simple as to be like the “concerns” being laid out in these comments:
    Admittedly, these are all from the same source, but the real issues and details are basically covered.

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  • mlew7299

    Blocking this merger may not be the entire solution, but it is a step in the right direction. I agree with sholling that this article is ridiculous at best. I am one who would like to see the merger nixed.

  • sholling

    Industry shills in drag as journalists want us to believe that the public wants and needs monopolies and duopolies and want to pay more for less service. How stupid does the author think we are? Pretty stupid I guess. What disappoints me is that the Daily Caller damages it’s own reputation by publishing propaganda like this. What next? Do they take a few bucks from Soros and swing left? I ask because I can’t believe that they are stupid enough to believe that monopolies and near monopolies are best for the public – only neocons buy into that crap. .

  • tinteardrop

    The consumer would be left with only one choice for a GSM carrier. This loss of leverage, available because AT&T and T-Mobile can, currently, be played off one another with unlocked GSM handsets, is akin to only having one choice of providers as CDMA is not an acceptable technology for some.

    • ojfl


      the solution to this is not simply to block this merger but to allow competition to form.

      • sholling

        How can there be competition when the the big two keep gobbling up the competition. We’re on our way back to the days of a phone monopoly and toll calls.

      • tinteardrop

        I don’t disagree as far as the basic concept of competitive free markets goes, it’s always my first choice also. But in this case what you’re talking about ‘forming’ would be an overlay of another GSM network across the entire country.

        Yes, we could hope there is a venture out there with the Capital and the initiative to pull something like that off but the regulatory hurdles, both Federal as well as State and local make it moot…it’s not going to happen. So what ever happens happens. As long as it’s understood that the goal of the merger is anti-competitive driven. It eliminates all the competition for access to that network.