Big Telecom screws CWA, everyone else

by Matt Stoller, MyDD

I'm really angry about net neutrality right now. It's conventional wisdom that there will be no net neutrality legislation moved this cycle, which is completely fucking ridiculous. There's an open universal wireless broadband and cell phone network that the US could implement in 2009, but the FCC's Kevin Martin really wants to give it away. Meanwhile, the broadband providers are starting to impose cell phone like restrictions on their service, beginning with those lovely early termination fees that we all love. And Google and the internet companies are laughably incompetent in their lobbying capacity (this comes from the leadership of those companies, who find DC dumb and dirty and neuter their lobbyists).

And then there's the CEO pay. AT&T CEO Ed Whiteacre is going to get, according to Pensions and Investments (can't find link), "$158.4 million pension package when he retires as chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc, the highest of any CEO." And then there's Ivan Seidenberg, of Verizon, who made $109 million the last five despite a shareholder return of negative five percent.

The Communications Workers of America are going after Seidenberg not Whiteacre, because Whiteacre isn't trying to union-bust. But in public policy matters, when Seidenberg or Whiteacre say 'jump', CWA says 'how high'. Right now, the net neutrality fight is stalled because CWA is relying on their corporate masters rather than its natural allies, the progressive and consumer rights movements. In Maryland, during a fight over a net neutrality bill, both CWA and Verizon showed up in force demanding that Maryland House of Delegates not even consider the bill because it had non-binding net neutrality findings in it. Both the corporate and labor lobbyists flat-out lied.

The union opposed the bill because it would put company investment at risk, and thus put jobs at risk. He was also careful to note what a wonderful employer Verizon was because it provides health care to its workers. According to CWA's written statement: "Bills such as HB 1069 would cause the loss of good jobs with health care and other benefits in the state of Maryland."
Michael Dean, the president of the Maryland CWA state council, piled on by saying that Verizon provides "good paying jobs" laying fiber and he, too, didn't want to put those jobs at risk. (Of course, CWA's witnesses somehow didn't get around to testifying that they endorsed the part of the bill calling for reporting of broadband deployment.)

Verizon, of course, opposed the bill, as did Verizon Wireless, with their lobbyist, Robert Branson, reminding the Committee about the two centers the company has for developing innovation in Maryland. The not-so-subtle message: Don't screw this up.

Michael Dean, the president of the Maryland CWA state council, piled on by saying that Verizon provides "good paying jobs" laying fiber and he, too, didn't want to put those jobs at risk. (Of course, CWA's witnesses somehow didn't get around to testifying that they endorsed the part of the bill calling for reporting of broadband deployment.)

Verizon, of course, opposed the bill, as did Verizon Wireless, with their lobbyist, Robert Branson, reminding the Committee about the two centers the company has for developing innovation in Maryland. The not-so-subtle message: Don't screw this up.

This kind of strategic blindness is unnecessary. CWA has its Speed Matters campaign, which we would wholly endorse if it just included net neutrality. We in the progressive and consumer rights movement all want a universal broadband build-out done by public funds and a unionized workforce. CWA wants the same. And yet, the union is so afraid that they will lose jobs to cable that they will cozy up to Ivan Seidenberg on matters of public policy while blasting him publicly for excessive pay. This might work if the public were on their side, but consumers don't care about unions when unions obviously don't care about them.

I've had multiple union officials, when I tried explaining the net neutrality issue/CWA conflict say to me that I should just 'get over it' and work on good jobs for workers like a good progressive. I guess we have more educating to do, but still, we have to solve this. The AFL-CIO knows that CWA is on the wrong side of the net neutrality issue, but the various member unions can't move without CWA on board. It's an obvious organizing problem, if corporate owners can move in to control the internet as they do every other form of media. The labor movement knows this better than anyone, they should just do the right thing. Arrgggh.

Or let me put it another way. If you are a labor leader, who would you throw your lot in with?

Option one is the telecom industry. Verizon is run by an evil management that is aggressively trying to union-bust. AT&T won't be far behind when Whiteacre retires. The cable industry is putting structural pressure on telecom, and everyone knows that America is behind the rest of the world as our corporate elites try to control the one free medium that exists.

Option two is the progressive movement. African-American political organizations want to make universal broadband a core civil rights plank, the progressive netroots is a growing force in the Democratic party, and consumers are completely fed-up with big telecom and aggressively bad service from wireless and cable companies.

There's more power in option two, and it's where CWA should be moving. Let's get net neutrality going already.

article originally published at http://www.mydd.com/story/2007/4/9/182054/9979.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey