Okay, this is a new one on me: the curtain is thrown back but the socks keep on talking, claiming there's no hand inside them: This is pretty remarkable, but the New Millennium Research Council and Issue Dynamics are defending their paid work on behalf of their incumbent telecom and cable customers directly. No pretense, no hiding. They want their cake and eat it, too.
Can it be said any clearer in this News.com article than a policy advocate at Consumer's Union? "Sometimes we agree with the phone companies, and sometimes we don't. But we never accept any money from an interested party."
NMRC pretends to be independent. I have asked the many reporters who have interviewed them, and unless they ask, the funding sources aren't revealed, though NMRC does disclose its relationship with Issue Dynamics on its Web site and vice versa. Reporters are being handed experts to talk to that don't provide reasonable disclosure about their financial ties to the organizations they are commenting on.
The president of Issue Dynamics, Sam Simon, says, "We try to be reasonably open about the fact that some research funding is from business interest." It's true, they are from their end. But NMRC is much less so, and it's not in Issue Dynamics's clients' interests for NMRC to be seen as an arm of the media relations firm. (Update: Simon has jumped into the fray in the comments below; I've posted his remarks unedited and replied.)
His site states succinctly on its home page that what NMRC attempts to deny is in fact the mission of Issue Dynamics: "IDI provides a complete suite of campaign management services that help our clients win their legislative and regulatory campaigns using grassroots, grasstops, third-party stakeholder support and integrated online campaigns."
Allen Hepner is noted here as the executive director of NMRC, but he's also an assistant vice president at Issue Dynamics. He cannot stand on one foot and say he is collecting independent thought on a subject and produce a report entirely biased in one direction while standing on the foot and collecting his salary from Issue Dynamics.
In a reply to the article, Hepner writes, "...in February 2005, the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) brought together six respected and independent national experts to provide a critical review of municipal entry into the broadband market. These experts, from noted institutions around the country, offered thoughtful critiques of this issue, but were labeled as disreputable by opposing interests."
I traced the funding and relationship of the report authors and related parties in a post months ago with a detailed chart showing the relationship between Verizon, Issue Dynamics, NMRC, its board members, and several other involved organizations.. Many of them cannot be reasonably said to be independent. All of them share the mindset of the clients of Issue Dynamics.
NMRC did not solicit a range of opinion, nor did they do primary research, relying largely in the report on previous reports that have flaws that have been well documented but which Hepner disregards as "An, 'I'm right, and you're simply wrong' diatribe" which ignores the mountains of articles and research that show the outdated underpinnings of the NMRC report--often relying on data from 1997 to 2001--simply don't represent a fair assessment.
The folks in favor of municipal networks have, in my experience, been much more supra rosa than Hepner maintains. He wants us to believe that lawyers, civic advocates, and government officials representing municipal interests are hiding these connections. I need some examples. Jim Baller is a very public, very active advocate for municipal networks. We know what Esme Vos of Muniwireless.com (who has told me she receives no funding from cities or towns) stands for. Civitium has its own, public agenda that they're following. The CIO of Philadelphia, Dianah Neff, isn't trying to disguise her interests.
None of these folks, whether you agree with their positions or not, are misleading reporters and the general public about which side their bread is buttered on. None of these folks is attempting to pretend to be independent. Most of them are providing documentation with first-person reporting that contradicts the second and thirdhand out of date and often inaccurate information provided by the NMRC in their report where facts are involved.
Now before I am labeled once again a tool of municipal networks and their supporters, let me state clearly: I am not in favor of nor opposed to municipal networks. I favor private firms taking the risk in situations where that is appropriate to produce host-neutral or wholesale broadband networks. In cases in which private partners cannot be found and the necessity is great, municipalities might take on the network building themselves.
But in all cases, I favor self determination. Cities and towns need to be able to decide what is best for themselves when their public and private survival is at stake: a lack of connectivity and ubiquitous access reduces business activity and development, and leads to wrack and ruin. Incumbents don't argue otherwise; they maintain that they're the only parties with the right to provide service.
Is it a coincidence with a number of we bloggers have been so aggressive about pulling back the curtain on the puppet show that Issue Dynamics has just launched its Blogger Relations Practice? "Says [EVP Ken] Deutsch, "The Internet is for whoever writes it - that's either you, your competitors or your critics doing the postings. IDI helps our clients get their messages out right - in the right places, in the right context and with the right tone.' "
[Image in the public domain courtesy Wikipedia.]