Consumers for Cable Choice

 

Consumers for Cable Choice is an Astroturf organization that bills itself as a grassroots organization with "members throughout the United States who are committed to the deelopment of a competitive, vibrant cable communications market."[3]  The group claims to represent "one million consumers… from all socioeconomic, ethnic and demographic fabrics."[4]

 

Consumers for Cable Choice sounds a lot like a real consumer advocacy group.  They support greater competition in the cable television industry in order to provide "more choices, better content, lower prices and better service."[5]  They lament the rise in cable rates, the unwillingness of the industry to adopt a la carte pricing and abysmal customer service by cable providers.  In addition to its main website, www.consumers4choice.org, Consumers for Cable Choice operates www.MyCableNightmare.com, a site dedicated to collecting and disseminating horror stories from consumers about their cable companies.  In fact if you're not careful, you might mistake Consumers for Cable Choice for Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

 

But there's one key difference between Consumers Union and Consumers for Cable Choice: how they are funded.  Consumers Union, as part of their commitment to consumer protection, does not accept funding from any industry.[6]  Consumers for Cable Choice, on the other hand, is financially backed largely by telephone companies, including Verizon and AT&T[7] - the very companies that would benefit the most if Congress makes it easier for competitors to enter the cable television market.  Telephone companies would like to begin offering video service as an alternative to cable, but they don't want to have to negotiate franchising agreements with local cities and towns the way cable companies do.  Instead, they are lobbying for Congress to grant them a national franchise.

 

Robert K. Johnson, the executive director of Consumers for Cable Choice, is not new to the world of Astroturf lobbying.  He previously served as the head of Consumers Voice (now defunct), another group purporting to represent consumer interests, but that was actually a front for AT&T.[8]  Johnson also previously worked as a corporate attorney, representing telecommunications clients before state and federal regulators.

 

Consumers for Cable Choice has disclosed that they accepted $75,000 from Verizon and "a commensurate amount" from SBC Communications (now AT&T) last summer when the organization began.[9]  Little else is known about its funding, since it was incorporated less than a year ago[10] and therefore has not yet filed any financial reports or tax returns.

 

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Footnotes:

 

[3] Consumers for Cable Choice, "About Us," at http://www.consumers4choice.org/site/PageServer?pagename=About (last visited 15 Mar 2006).    Back to report.

[4] Testimony submitted to the Senate Commerce Committee, Hearing on Video Franchising, 15 Feb 2006, at http://www.consumers4choice.org/site/DocServer/ JohnsonSenateTestimony31Jan06.pdf?docID=641 (last visited 15 Mar 2006).   Back to report.

[5] Consumers for Cable Choice, "What This Campaign Is All About," at http://www.consumers4choice.org/site/ PageServer?pagename=Campaign (last visited 15 Mar 2006).   Back to report.

[6] Consumers Union, "About Consumers Union," at http://www.consumersunion.org/aboutcu/about.html (last visited 15 Mar 2006).  Back to report.

[7] David Lazarus, "Cable 'Coalitions' Sketchy," San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Nov 2005.  Back to report.

[8] David Hatch, "AT&T Ventriloquist Behind Voice?," Electronic Media, 21 May 2001.   Back to report.

[9] David Lazarus, "Cable 'Coalitions' Sketchy," San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Nov 2005.  Back to report.

[10] Don Oldenburg, "Demonizing the Customer; Some Company Help Staffs Disdain the People They Serve," Washington Post, 13 Nov 2005.  Back to report.