The National Cable Telecommunications Association has admitted to backing a mysterious grassroots-like campaign designed to gather feedback from millennial-aged consumers regarding the Internet.
The NCTA, however, denies a Pro Publica claim that the effort, Onward Internet, is aimed at steering the Federal Communications Commission away from adopting strident Title II Internet regulations.
Directing FierceCable to his Thursday blog post extrapolating on the campaign, a spokesperson for the trade org, Brian Dietz, said the Onward Internet "is not about net neutrality."
In the post, Dietz writes, "We love the Internet. We love how disruptive it is. We love how funny it is. We love how transformative, wild and open it is. So we made it NCTA's 2014 goal to champion the Internet for what it is: The most important technology since Gutenberg's printing press."
On Thursday morning (Oct. 9), Pro Publica ran a story which uncovered the NCTA as the backer behind public installations that suddenly appeared on the streets of San Francisco and other urban locals labeled "Internet Suggestion Box," accompanied by what the publication described as "young people in futuristic costumes."
The campaign also features a website, OnwardInternet.com, asking visitors to outline their vision for the Internet 10 years from now.
"The Internet is a wild, free thing. Unbounded by limits, unfettered by rules, it is constantly growing and evolving," reads a message on the site's "about" page, which offers no info as to what the site's goals are, or who its backer is. "From its birth and the bygone days of dial-up to the future of universal access, it's everyone's responsibility to ensure that the Internet continues to advance and evolve at the breakneck pace we've enjoyed for the past 20 years."
For its part, Pro Publica was able to get one of the young "suggestion box" survey takers to cough up the client, the NCTA.
Writes Pro Publica: "As the Federal Communications Commission nears a decision on new rules, suspicions have grown that industry players are funding independent groups to create the appearance of diverse, grass-roots backing. Think tanks have been accused of being co-opted. Nonprofits have been criticized for concealing who they represent. In one case, the telecom industry was accused of fooling unwitting businesses into joining a coalition against broadband regulation."
This is not the first time the NCTA has been accused of astro-turfing. In June, Vice obtained documents showing the group had funded a lobbying firm, DCI Group, that specializes in creating fake consumer groups to support corporate interests.
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