Thursday, May 13, 2010

'Secret' telecom anti-Net neutrality plan isn't

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The Center for American Progress seemed to have blockbuster news on Tuesday: an expose titled "Telecoms' Secret Plan To Attack Net Neutrality."

On its Think Progress blog, the liberal advocacy group announced it had "obtained" a PowerPoint document "which reveals how the telecom industry is orchestrating the latest campaign against Net neutrality" through a pseudo-grassroots effort. The story was echoed on Slashdot, Boing Boing, and innumerable pro-regulation blogs.

There's just one problem with Think Progress' claim: It's not, well, accurate.

In a case of truth being stranger than astroturf, it turns out that the PowerPoint document was prepared as a class project for a competition in Florida last month. It cost the six students a grand total of $173.95, including $18 for clip art.

The "No Net Brutality" campaign idea was one of the four finalists created as an assignment for a two-and-a-half week "think tank MBA" program. The other finalists were a project promoting free speech in Venezuela, one supporting education reform in Poland, and one dealing with sales taxes rates in Washington, D.C. ("No Net Brutality" came in third. The Polish reform idea won.)

Not only was the PowerPoint document presentation no secret, but it was posted publicly on the competition's blog, along with an audio recording of the event in Miami where the student contestants presented their ideas to the judges.

The competition was organized by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market group that spends millions of dollars a year supporting regional think tanks in other countries, especially those where the rule of law or protection of individual rights may be impaired. Some examples include the Imani Center for Policy and Education in Ghana, the Fundacion Global in Argentina, and the Cathay Institute for Public Affairs in China.

"The Think Progress article is hilarious," David MacLean, the Canadian member of the six-person student team from four different continents, told CNET on Wednesday. "We've had a really good laugh in the last day over this. This is one of the funniest things I've ever seen."

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