National industry front groups and lobbying firms connected to AT&T are campaigning for the passage of HB 6456 in Michigan. The bill would adjust the way that cable franchises are awarded in the state in light of efforts by AT&T and other telecommunications companies to compete with cable providers. Franchises are currently negotiated on a per municipality basis while the bill would setup a statewide franchising system, under which any existing franchises could be cut immediately. There is a potential that local communities could lose as much as $47 to $57 million in revenue from changes in the franchising process. While AT&T has already come out in the press in support of the bill when it stated that it would not invest money or create jobs in Michigan if HB 6456 does not pass, it is also making use of national lobbying firms and industry front groups to advocate for the passage of the bill in a more subtle manner in which AT&T appears at first glance not to be backing the effort.
AT&T is working with the national lobbying firm Creative Response Concepts, an Alexandria, Virginia based firm that has a history of working with large corporations, industry front groups, and conservative causes. Among the company’s clients are a number of media corporations including AT&T, Viacom, PAX Television, the Walt Disney Company, Simon & Schuster, Universal Studios, TIME Warner, and Telecel International as well as large industry groups such as the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturing Association. In addition, the company has also worked with far right organizations including the Federalist Society and the Media Research Center. However, the company is probably most know for supporting the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general through its work representing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group in the 2004 presidential campaign. That group used a variety of media appearances and a book, published by another Creative Response Concepts client, Regenry Publishing, to criticize Senator John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam.
Creative Response Concepts sent out an email this week to media outlets across the state urging people media outlets to interview former Assistant United States Secretary of Commerce Larry Irving about the “many benefits” of the legislation. The email claims that the bill will save consumers money and bring new jobs to the state. However, while the email mentions that Irving also is co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, it fails to explain that the Internet Innovation Alliance is a front group for the telecommunications industry. The Internet Innovation Alliance was identified by the organization Common Cause as one of the major “astroturf” and telecommunications front groups campaigning to eliminate net neutrality in a study conducted earlier this year. While the Alliance calls itself an “association of nonprofit groups, business associations, consumer advocates, think tanks, corporations and technology leaders,” it has no consumer groups and instead counts AT&T as one of its members along with the Information Technology Association of America. The Internet Innovation Alliance was formed by SBC in 2004 as a front group to advance policy favorable to the telecommunications company, whom AT&T acquired in a merger with SBC. The industry front group FreedomWorks has also been active in the campaign for HB 6456.
While the involvement of these entities does not fundamentally change the debate over the bill, it does show that the telecommunications companies are putting up an intense effort to create public support for the bill in addition to lobbying for it heavily in the Michigan Senate.