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« NRMC Report on Municipal Broadband Is Out | Main | Nextel Shuts Down Flarion Trial »

February 3, 2005

eWeek Pulls Socket Puppet from Lobbying Firms Hand

eWeek connects NMRC to Issue Dynamics, a telecom lobbying firm: Wayne Rash reports at the end of a story about Philadelphia's upcoming municipal wireless announcement the following blockbuster about the ties between the New Millennium Research Council, co-issuers of today's report "Not In The Public Interest - The Myth of Municipal Wi-Fi Networks." (I've written extensively about this report and its precursors over the last few days.)

Rash writes: While preparing this story, learned that the NMRC is actually owned and sponsored by Washington lobbying firm Issue Dynamics Inc., whose clients include most of the major telecommunications companies in the United States. Those companies have been active in opposing municipal wireless and broadband efforts. The company claimed that its reports were nevertheless completely independent.

I've been saying these folks were sock puppets for days and criticizing the lack of transparency about funding among several organizations involved in creating this report, while still listening to the message. (I had some positive things to say about parts of the report earlier today.) This should be a major embarrassment to Issue Dynamics's clients who are now starkly revealed as the puppeteers.

More prosaically, Rash describes the public/private partnership that Philadelphia expects to use, which is in contrast to the kinds of entirely municipal efforts decried in the NMRC's report. Tropos may have the lead as it was involved in a four-square-mile test. And note throughout the article that Philly's CIO Dianah Neff is talking about broadband wireless, not "Wi-Fi," as the report continually conflates.

The ever-insightful Carol Ellison also weighed in about the NMRC report. She summarizes the phone conference about the release of the report today as, "The rollout of municipally held Wi-Fi networks will likely have a detrimental effect on city budgets and on competition." Ellison castigates the press event and the report, noting, "But while the session promised to fill the gap on the dearth of in-depth analysis on the subject, it and the report that accompanied it offered many more sweeping statements about failed projects than information about why they failed."

Ellison shreds the NMRC for its undisclosed connection to Issue Dynamics: "The NMRC made a point to say that none of the researchers who participated received any money from NMRC. But in case you're wondering who's paying the bills at IDI, take a look at its client list. If you don't want to read the whole huge thing, let me summarize those of interest in this issue: Ameritech, Bell South, Comcast, Pacific Bell, Qwest, SBC Communications, Sprint, U.S. West, Verizon and Verizon Wireless."

It's fair to say that the disclosure of the NMRC's parent firm may alter the entire landscape of debate on municipal wireless.


While you are on the subject of transparency, I think it would be good also to expose the corporate face of the "other side" of the municipal issue. Clark McLeod, formerly of McLeodUSA, has been promoting "OpportunityIowa" a "grassroots, non-profit citizens movement" to promote municipal fiber optic utilities in Iowa.

However, he tells Telephony Magazine that he has formed a for-profit corporation, FiberUtilities of Iowa, of which he'll be the CEO. McLeod said that the employees of FiberUtilities, which intends to bid fiber contracts with any cities that start a municipal utility on the advice of OpportunityIowa, are also the employees of the "non-profit, grassroots, citizens" OpportunityIowa.

I really appreciate your balanced, rational coverage of this. Just thought you might be interested in yanking a few more sock puppets!

Dan, this is great, and just what we should be trying for across the board. I'm pleased that you so quickly found an example on the other side of the fence.

And to show how ecumenical we can be, let me quote an excellent paragraph written by David McClure in the NMRC report (page 17 of the PDF) that I agree with 100 percent:

"Consulting firms who
propose such projects should be barred from bidding on the implementation. Elected
officials who assess the projection should be barred from letting the contract to the
implementer. The implementer should subsequently not be involved in assessment of the
value of the project once it is in operation."

I applaud your efforts, but I think it's important to remember that the best arguments are not the ones that expose sock puppetry, but ones that address substantive points and distortions. Good arguments and facts are always better than ad hominem, even completely justified ad hominem.

Also, there is something to the argument that many of the people in the best position to judge and understand the various technologies involved will be experts who have some sort of conflict of interest. Of course, we should be very suspicious of those who hide those conflicts of interest rather than airing them.

John, see previous posts for discussions of the substantive issues. There are many points in the report that are worth looking at, especially issues of how projects of this scale are budgeted, built, and audited. This post, in particular, isn't ad hominem: I'm not attacking them without appealing to reason. Rather, I am trying to make sure that by hiding their biases, they don't receive disproportionate weight. The story would have been covered entirely differently if Issue Dynamics had issued the report directly with the same participants.