Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., last week addressed the Free State Foundation to announce his new plan to undermine recently enacted net neutrality rules by going after the funding of the Federal Communications Commission, the agency behind the decision.
The FCC’s approach to net neutrality represents “potential untenable rules and regulatory overreach that will hurt consumers,” said Walden, the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, speaking at the foundation’s annual Telecom Policy Conference. Walden outlined a plan to limit FCC appropriations, cap its other revenue sources, and change the hiring process for the FCC’s inspector general.
David Segal, co-founder of Demand Progress, a pro-net neutrality group, said Walden’s remarks “underscore his allegiance to corporate interests.”
Walden’s choice of venue is telling. According to tax filings by two cable and wireless trade associations, the Free State Foundation has received nearly half a million dollars from the trade associations over the last five years. CTIA-The Wireless Association — representing Verizon, AT&T and Motorola, among others — gave the foundation $213,750. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the trade group for Comcast and other major cable companies, provided $280,000 to the foundation. The two trade groups intend to file a lawsuit to block the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
The Free State Foundation raised $797,500 total in 2012 but is not legally required to disclose its donors and, unlike many think tanks, does not do so voluntarily on its website. PCWorld gave the foundation an “F” rating for donor transparency. As of publication, the Free State Foundation has not responded to questions about its funders.
The Free State Foundation, founded by Randolph May, a former telecommunications attorney in Washington, D.C., describes itself as “an independent, non-profit free market-oriented think tank.” Consumer advocates have long complained that the foundation routinely lobbies on behalf of telecom industry positions. The group, in addition to working against net neutrality regulations, has pushed to block municipal broadband choices for consumers and heavily promoted major industry mergers, including the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal.
At the event, shortly after Walden gave his speech, the foundation hosted a panel with two representatives from its telecom trade group funders CTIA and NCTA. “Because we have competition,” said Jot Carpenter, vice president for government affairs at CTIA, “our view is that we don’t need a lot of regulation.”
As telecom expert Susan Crawford points out, Comcast and Time Warner control approximately 65 percent of broadband internet access in the U.S. and do not compete with each other in the same locations, while AT&T and Verizon control about 65 percent of the cellphone market.
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