The hallmark of the Free Press push for network neutrality has been their opposition to industry players conducting secret meetings with the FCC.
This comment by Josh Silver is typical:
Despite public outrage and repeated promises of transparency, the FCC continues to meet behind closed doors with the largest companies to negotiate a secret deal."
Now it comes out that Free Press has had it's own private meetings with the FCC, and while the Free Press meetings have been no more secret than those of the other industry players that they critique, everybody has to report lobbying activity, they have also been very quiet about their private meetings with the FCC
In yesterday's diary and elsewhere I have definitively critiqued their flawed understanding of net neutrality. I also pointed out that the thrust of their campaign has been to put the FCC in charge of the Internet, which so far has been run by a group of international NGOs. Now I want to shine a little light on the lobbying organization itself because I really have to wonder what its agenda is.
According to the the FCC's vistors log, Free Press staffers had at least 29 separate meetings with the FCC in 2009 and according to ex parte filings, Free Press people have had at least 6 private meetings with the FCC in 2010, including a meeting on January 22, 2010 between Free Press rep Ben Scott and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and four of the Chairman's advisors.
That's pretty high level contact for a protest group, not the usual situation. It would be really nice to know what went on at that meeting. One would think that such a high level meeting would make a big splash on their website. But I couldn't find a thing. Since Free Press has been so vocal in demanding transparency in the dealing of others with the FCC, it is a real shame that we have to find out the meeting even took place from the right wing Daily Caller.
Free Press is a lobbying group. They have at least one registered lobbyist with the FCC and some people think they should have more and have accused them of violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The above meeting took place just 3 days after Free Press received a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The Free Press does say that they are not like the others. Chris Riley made this clear yesterday, after the story about Free Press lobbying broke, saying it was:
the difference between lobbyists whose job is to advance the parochial commercial goals of a business, and those few advocates employed by nonprofit organizations who try to do their best to put the publics interest first.
I'm sure that's true, and if we knew about the meeting and if Free Press had told us what went on at the meeting, there would be no doubt.
Not all the meeting have been in FCC offices. In December 2009 Free Press rep Ben Scott planned a meeting with Tom Powers of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration [NTIA] at a Starbucks.
Requesting the meeting in an email on December 10, 2009, Ben Scott wrote:
I wanted to reconnect sometime soon. I hear youre cooking up the next course in the Net Neutrality debate, and I wanted to offer my culinary advice. Ive been in the Net Neutrality sausage making business for some years now, and Im hopeful that I can be useful to you. I had a good meeting with Danny Weitzner a week or two ago but I wanted to talk about the politics with you. Your intervention will carry enormous weight.
So since the beginning of this year Free Press has gotten some fat newspaper foundation money, had a series of, shall we say "undisclosed" meetings with the FCC, and now they have come out with a full court media campaign targeting the one industry player that has a long history of fighting for net neutrality, Google.
If I were a conspiracy theorist I might call that an embarrassing chain of events, but I'm sure there is nothing to that, so I suggest you all run down to the Free Press Google protest in Mountain View. There's still time, it doesn't start till noon. Free Press is making sausage and they need some filler.