Free Press and NTEN con nonprofits into supporting net neutrality

Mike Riggs Contributor
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Late last month, lobbyists for the pro-net neutrality movement began circulating a letter [PDF] on Capitol Hill demanding the immediate passage of a law that would allow the FCC to regulate Internet broadband. The letter, sponsored by media reformist groups Free Press and the Nonprofit Technology Network, featured over 160 signatories, among them the Dr. Pepper Museum, Planned Parenthood of North Texas, and Operation Catnip, a spay-and-neuter clinic in Gainesville, Florida.

If you’re thinking that the aforementioned groups don’t sound like the net-neutrality types, you’d be right. One signatory doesn’t remember signing anything related to net neutrality, and the other signatories contacted by The Daily Caller could not explain their support for Title II reclassification — in fact, they didn’t even attempt to explain their support.

“Gosh, I don’t have a clue,” said Jack McKinney when asked how Title II reclassification could benefit the Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in Waco, Texas. “We use a lot of technology here. We’re pretty good with Facebook and Twitter and things.”

McKinney, who is executive director at the museum, thought for a second. “Are you sure our name was on that list?”

Both his name and his company’s are indeed on the letter, and above them, text that reads as follows: “Net Neutrality is vital to ensuring that everyone has a voice on issues of public concern. Open Internet opponents have claimed that Net Neutrality rules would give the government the power to ‘become the Web’s traffic cop, shutting down free speech on the Internet.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Without rules to prevent discrimination, Internet providers will be free to choose whose voices are more important and whose get left out.”

The folks at Operation Catnip in Gainesville, Florida, weren’t too keen on taking Title II questions. “I appreciate you approaching the topic and trying to get our stance on that,” said manager Shaye Olmstead. “But we gear up once a month for spay day, and that’s this Friday. So can you send me an email and I’ll answer you throughout the day as I have time?”

The Daily Caller did not receive a response from Olmstead, much less a series of responses, despite the fact that Olmstead’s name appears twice on the letter: once as manager of Operation Catnip of Gainesville, Inc., and once as manager of Helping Hands Pet Rescue (also located in Gainesville).

Title II reclassification would “reclassify” broadband Internet — the information it transports, the speed at which it moves it, and the size of the vehicle — out of Title I and into Title II, making the broadband industry open to regulation by the FCC, much like the telephone industry.

The aforementioned nonprofit groups, as well as more than one hundred other signatories, are members of the Nonprofit Technology Network. On its about page, NTEN says that it “facilitates the exchange of knowledge and information within our community. We connect our members to each other, provide professional development opportunities, educate our constituency on issues of technology use in nonprofits, and spearhead groundbreaking research, advocacy, and education on technology issues affecting our entire community.”

NTEN’s services apparently extend to surveying members, then using those results to claim members “signed” an open letter calling for net neutrality and Title II reclassification.

At least, that’s what Melissa Ogden, the director of development for Planned Parenthood of North Texas, intimated to The Daily Caller in a hurried phone call.

“I’m not going to be in a position to make that comment,” Ogden said when asked how Title II would affect Planned Parenthood. “You should talk to our marketing outreach person, though I’m not sure she’s going to be all that knowledgeable either. I’m a member of the Nonprofit Technology, um, I can’t remember what it stands for, but they put the survey together.”

A representative for NTEN could not be reached for comment, but the news item currently leading NTEN’s homepage suggests that the big telecommunications companies are going to take away NTEN members’ internet access like, tomorrow. Entitled “What DON’T You Need the Internet For?“, the item says that “if the FCC doesn’t succeed in reasserting its authority, we may lose our open Internet — and millions more will just lose out on the Internet, period. We need clear rules of the road that will preserve the Internet and its potential to continue to fuel innovation and economic growth, and allow non-profit organizations to work for social change.”

Interestingly, groups like Free Press and NTEN like to publicly denounce letters with questionable signatories. In 2009, Ars Technica pointed to a letter that was supposedly authored by a group of senior citizens who supposedly had written Congress to oppose net neutrality. The group “forgot to strip out the ‘XYZ organization’ and replace the text with its own name,” reports Ars Technica, which caught wind of the letter from Free Press. “It’s unclear who was behind the letter, but it certainly looks like evidence of anti-neutrality forces rounding up an odd collection of allies on this issue,” wrote Ars’ Matthew Lasar.

Incidentally, it was just last month that Free Press, NTEN’s closest ally, was revealed to have written a letter that someone else (Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee) was circulating as his own thoughts.

McKinney isn’t sure where he stands on net neutrality, but thinks the Dr. Pepper Museum might be a signatory on the wrong letter. When The Daily Caller told McKinney that the Internet is not currently regulated in the same way that other forms of communication are, the proprietor of the Dr. Pepper Museum interjected, “– and thank god for that!”

When The Daily Caller explained that Title II reclassification would bring the Internet under the regulatory control of the FCC, as well as detailed some of the other ideas that Free Press is pushing in Washington, McKinney’s voice turned into a whisper. “Oh no. That isn’t good. Maybe somebody punched the wrong button? We’re the Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute. I think someone has usurped us on this.”