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<nettime> HandsOfftheInternet, says AT&T
Soenke Zehle on Mon, 22 May 2006 10:00:14 +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 users?"

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 confidential."

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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