Several policy analysts from some of the most prominent think-tanks have been offering their opinions and research while also collecting paychecks from some of the biggest tech companies in the world.
The New York Times examined 75 think tanks and discovered that many researchers worked simultaneously “as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards of outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes.”
The most prominent DC think tanks are little more than tax exempt marketing agencies for corp lobbying campaigns https://t.co/VoSdhoZRDK
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) August 7, 2016
Three researchers in particular advocated against proposed net neutrality rules under the pretense that they were providing evidence of the purported negative effects from the position of the nonprofit research institutes, not the for-profit consulting firms.
Jeffrey A. Eisenach worked as a scholar for the American Enterprise Institute at the same time he was a paid consultant for Verizon, according to The New York Times.
Robert Litan and Hal Singer were employed as senior fellows for the Brookings Institution and Progressive Policy Institute, respectively, while also working for a Economists Incorporated, a consulting firm with big name clients like AT&T and Verizon.
In general, tech companies are averse to proposed net neutrality because it aims to restrict their freedoms and overall capabilities as a business. Corporations like AT&T, Verizon, IBM and Intel believe treating all data on the Internet the same and making it a public utility will decrease incentives to innovate and will limit competition.
Proponents of net neutrality contend that it will allow for more fairness because the biggest companies can use their power and influence to control the market and box out competitors. Comcast has been accused of interfering with other avenues for internet traffic multiple times.
“A report authored by an academic is going to have more credibility in the eyes of the regulator who is reading it,” Michael J. Copps, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, told New York Times.
But it’s becoming harder to trust the institutions that were originally established to provide neutral analysis of the highest integrity.
Eisenach, Litan and Singer were working under the guise of unbiased policy analysts, but were essentially nothing more than lobbyists. Their research is being taken by congressmen and policymakers as impartial, but the studies conducted under the umbrella of the think-tanks could be adulterated or compromised (subconsciously or consciously) by the often parallel work done for Verizon or AT&T.
In other words, being perceived as an independent authority, think tank scholars can sway public opinion and have enormous influence. But concurrently working for a private company is likely to discredit their independent and objective analysis.
Nevertheless, there are many unbiased arguments for and against net neutrality.
One analysis reads, “rather than heavy-handed government mandates that presume to know the best way for the Internet to evolve, we should continue to keep the ‘hands-off’ police that has enabled the Internet to become the powerful engine of innovation we enjoy today.”
The only problem is this opinion comes from Litan of Brookings (and Economist Incorporated).
Such an opinion may still have substantial merit, but it should be taken with a grain of salt because of the other organization (or more precisely, corporation) who gives Litan a paycheck.
Rent-a-think-tank-scholar whose anti-net neutrality research was paid for by telcos: “none of us works for free” https://t.co/avzXmvU7Ut
— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) August 8, 2016
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