Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has selected Julia Johnson, president of a consulting firm called NetCommunications, to lead the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment, a group Pai said he established to champion the voice of every American, “no matter their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”
Despite the laudatory title and mission of the diversity committee, Johnson is a consultant who perfectly embodies the corporations-first agenda of President Donald Trump’s FCC.
Johnson has long worked on behalf of industry groups seeking to undermine consumer regulations and promote the interests of large corporate clients.
Shortly after Trump named Pai to lead the FCC, the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council — a nonprofit chaired by Johnson and funded by Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telecom firms — released statements praising Pai’s appointment and endorsing his strategy for unwinding the net neutrality protections secured during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
MMTC’s pro-Trump administration statements, cast as being made on behalf of communities of color, are typical of Johnson’s approach. Over the years, Johnson has used racial minorities as a cudgel to disingenuously lobby on behalf of industry.
For instance, as The Intercept previously reported, a news website created by Johnson’s consulting firm, Politic365, worked aggressively to slam the idea of “net metering,” which allows homeowners to claim credit for the solar electricity they generate and send back to the utility grid. Politic365 published multiple pieces sharply criticizing the rule, claiming that the metering would somehow harm African-American consumers and would simply benefit “privileged” elites. Those claims directly contradict findings by independent analysts, especially those working in communities of color on renewable and green job initiatives. What’s more, while Politic365 led the anti-net metering effort, it did not disclose that Johnson was paid by the utility firms opposed to net metering, including FirstEnergy and NorthWestern Energy.
Johnson’s history of “astroturfing,” a term for lobbying using fake grassroots groups, goes back more than a decade. During congressional testimony in 2006, Johnson was unmasked for lobbying against minorities on behalf of the telecom industry. Then-Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked Johnson why her organization, a group she formed called the Video Access Alliance, appeared to oppose a requirement of a bill that would force telephone companies to “build out” services to poor and minority neighborhoods.
The question led to a fairly unusual exchange, with Johnson finally admitting that she was consulting for the same telephone industry interests that had also resisted the build-out mandate:
Markey: Is your organization financially supported by the Bell [telephone] companies in any way?
Johnson: No, we’re not.
Markey: At all.
Johnson: Yes, and let me elaborate upon that too. We’re a relatively new organization.
Markey: No, that’s OK. I can go along with that answer. That’s fine. Thank you. And are you compensated in any way by the Bell companies?
Johnson: I have a consulting firm that works for a variety of companies, generally in the regulatory space.
Markey: But are the Bell companies amongst those companies that pay you?
Johnson’s appointment to the FCC’s diversity board has been celebrated by none other than Politic365. In a news item that does not mention Johnson’s connection to Politics365, the website notes that many of Johnson’s colleagues from her group, MMTC, have also joined Pai’s diversity effort, and that their first meeting will take place on September 25.