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<nettime> HandsOfftheInternet, says AT&T
Soenke Zehle on Sat, 20 May 2006 12:40:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> HandsOfftheInternet, says AT&T

"Maybe it's time that they be taken to task for what is clearly a misleading
advertising campaign?" Sure. But then, I have yet to see an advertising
campaign that wasn't misleading, Soenke


[UPDATE 1] HandsOfftheInternet.com -- More Sock-Puppetry from the
Telecom Ministry of Propaganda.

HandsofftheInternet.com is yet another prime example of astroturf in action. I
can only suspect that telecom incumbents pay some sort of professional PR group
to create websites like this specifically to misinform and mislead the public.
So I decided to start an investigation to figure out who HandsOff actually was.
Here's what I've found:

Looking at the footer on HandsOff, but that didn't provide any information on
who was actually running the site. The "about us" section just said things like
"Hands Off The Internet is a nationwide coalition of Internet users." Which
begs the question, "Who are the members of this 'national coalition of Internet

This lead me to take a look at the "Membership Organizations" section -- and
low and behold, membership organizations included:

       Bell South
       Cingular Communications
       The National Association of Manufacturer
       and a host of industry front groups

Now, this is rather enlightening, and I probably could have stopped there. But
what happens if you delve deeper?

A quick whois registrar search of HandsOfftheInternet.com shows that the domain
was registered back in 2002 (by someone who, I suspect, is in no way affiliated
with its current manifestation); however, it was updated in April 2006 and the
name service set to 1and1.com. Strangely enough, so is DontRegulate.org --
which houses an incredibly misleading cartoon that leads back to HandsOff.
What's interesting about the whois query is not what it shows, but rather, what
it doesn't show. There's no real information on who's actually running either
HandsOff or DontRegulate. In fact, one only gets information like, "Registrant
Name:Oneandone Private Registration" (for DontRegulate) and the old
registration info for HandsOff. Which is extremely strange... it almost makes
one think that whoever is running both groups has something to hide.

Which left me wondering, well, what about the Chairmen for HandsOff? Given that
all other information has been carefully hidden from public view, who is this
"Mike McCurry" and what does he do for a living. As it turns out, Mike McCurry
works for Public Strategies Washington... "What," I hear you ask, "is Public
Strategies Washington?" Here it is, direct from their website:

       PSW is: "A full-service government relations and lobbying firm, PSW
provides the kind of special insights into the workings of Washington that are
essential in developing and executing a successful lobbying strategy."

Now wait a second, whatever happened to the "national coalition of Internet
users?" Maybe there's more grassroots action through the Grassroots
Enterprises, which McCurry is also on the Board of Directors of? So what does
Grassroots do? According to their website:

       "Grassroots Enterprise works for a wide range of corporations, trade
associations, nonprofit organizations, and industry coalitions to help them
recruit, educate, and mobilize potential supporters...most of our clients take
advantage of our extensive experience in building web-based communications and
advocacy programs, as well as our expertise in message development, grassroots
and grasstops organizing, and political strategy...Our proprietary software
platform, Grassroots Multiplier=AE has all the key features needed to wage
effective online campaigns...Much of our client work and clients are

So here's the big questions: Who is funding HandsOfftheInternet.com? If there's
not a smoking gun here, why are the linkages to funders being obfuscated, the
whois entries hidden, and the affiliations so damning? Who gave the funding for
the series of huge ads run in such publications as The Washington Post, Roll
Call, and The Hill?

I still didn't have a direct link to who was behind HandsOff... And yet,
someone must have slipped up somewhere -- just a thread that might begin to
unravel things. Which lead me to HandsOff.org -- the URL listed in the big ads
run in various DC papers. A whois of HandsOff.org just happened to have an
administrator named Tom Stock lists -- that and the following information:

       Admin Organization:TSE Enterprises, L.L.C

Fascinating -- who was TSE Enterprises? From their website:

       "TSE Enterprises, LLC has been engineering web sites and portals,
interactive multimedia, and electronic multimedia (EDM) campaigns for public
relations, public affairs, and political groups nationwide."

Maybe it's time that HandsOff came clean about who's funding this "grassroots"
effort? Maybe it's time that they be taken to task for what is clearly a
misleading advertising campaign?

[UPDATE 1] May 17: Chris Wolf, co-chairman of HandsOff, has now admitted that
the bulk of the funding for this organization comes from AT&T and BellSouth.

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