Why Is Apple Supporting an Anti-Net Neutrality Astroturf Group?

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UPDATE: Uber has now confirmed that they are NOT a member of Callinovates. It appears this astroturf group has been lying not only about net neutrality but about which companies are members. More on this soon.

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are spending millions of dollars in an attempt to defeat California’s SB 822, the first state-level net neutrality bill that comprehensively restores the key protections of the now discarded 2015 Open Internet Order.

While a number of startups and mid-size tech companies (like Reddit, Twilio, Etsy and Patreon) are fighting for the protections, the largest tech companies have mostly sat on the sidelines, perhaps because they too afraid of the current federal political climate or because they are just to big to care anymore.

Except Uber and Apple.

Both Uber and Apple are supporting organizations that are spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to derail SB 822, including through “dark” adson Twitter and Facebook and misleading phone calls telling senior citizens that their internet bills are going to go up if net neutrality is restored.

The group that Uber supports is called CalInnovates, a longstanding proxy for AT&T that purports to be a “non-partisan coalition of tech companies, founders, funders and non-profits. ” It’s only notable members out of the 15 listed are AT&T and Uber, while two others are defunct.

Lane Kasselman, the group’s founder, left shortly after founding the group to become the Director of Communications and Public Affairs at AT&T and then later became head of communications for Uber, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Using at least $100,000 paid to it by AT&T this spring, CalInnovates has been running these dark ads on Twitter and Facebook, making absurd, fear-mongering claims that aren’t backed up by any real research.

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Uber is aware of this ad campaign, but hasn’t disclaimed it, and, as of publishing this story, it’s still listed as a member on CalInnovate’s website.

For its part, Apple is on the board of the Civil Justice Association of California, a group that says it fights “lawsuit abuse” but also is, for some odd reason, fighting SB 822.

In June, the Civil Justice Association of California began phone banking senior citizens on fixed incomes, telling them that SB 822 would raise their cell phone bills.

Here’s what those calls said.

“Hi, this is Gary Passmore representing the Congress of California Seniors and the Civil Justice Association of California. Calling to inform you that Senate Bill 822 will increase your phone bill. Right now your assembly member is considering voting on Senate Bill 822 which will increase your cell phone bill and slow down your data. We can’t afford higher bills with slower Internet connections. Please call 916–443–4900. That’s 916–443–4900 to tell your Assembly Member to vote no on Senate Bill 822. Thank you. Paid by the Civil Justice Association of California 91644.”

Now that SB 822 is set for an Assembly vote next week, these deceptive calls are starting again.

It’s unclear why the Civil Justice Association of California is working so hard against SB 822. None of the companies on its board are telecoms, and SB 822 no longer has a provision that lets individual Californians take legal action against an ISP for violating net neutrality.

Despite that the Civil Justice Association’s director John Doherty also testified against the bill on Wednesday, saying the bill would cause some unspecified legal costs. The 3 others who testified were from AT&T, CTIA The Wireless Association and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Which raises the question: Why is Apple letting a group that it supports and which it is on the board of oppose net neutrality?

Apple previously expressed support for the protections embodied in the FCC’s 2015 Order in its filings to the FCC (pdf).

Has Apple changed its position? Does it condone the Civil Justice Association scaring seniors by falsely telling them that net neutrality protections will increase their phone bill?

Apple did not answer its media line and has not yet responded to a voicemail message left with it there.

Maybe Uber or Apple would be willing to explain their support for sleazy anti-net neutrality tactics on Twitter?

And for those you in California, please call your Assembly member and those not in California, please help win back net neutrality at the federal level via the Congressional Review Act by calling your Congressional rep.

That’s the only way to beat slimy corporate money.

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