The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Buying Bobby Rush

Quick. How much does a black panther cost, and what will he do once you buy him? Well, if it’s former Black Panther Bobby Rush he might turn a trick or two if the price is right. The right price is $1 million, and here’s what it’ll get you.

On April 27, [the BlackCommentator.com] BC published two stories about CBC member Bobby Rush’s sponsorship of this year’s noxious telco legislation. We explained how the Rush-Barton Act, also called the COPE Act or HR 5252, would kill off public access TV, strip towns and cities of the right to force cable monopolies to serve blacker and poorer areas in return for being able to do business in the wealthier parts of town, and allow companies to charge web sites like this one for allowing content or email to reach users. We called attention to the acceptance of a million dollar donation by a tentacle of AT&T to a not for profit organization associated with the congressman. All this earned us a call that morning from a Chicago-based defender of the congressman.

BC was making a big mistake, the caller told us, by leading with the issue of network neutrality. Our deeply misguided caller accused us of playing into the hands of white media activists. Network neutrality, she said again and again in the course of an hour long conversation, was just not “our issue.”

But when a black member of congress accepts a million dollar telco donation for a supposed community-based project in his district, and turns up as co-sponsor of telco legislation to redline and disempower black communities nationwide, along with suppressing everybody’s freedom of access to the Internet, it is indeed a black issue.

Well, it is. But there are folks better at explaining why than I am. And since I haven’t blogged about it much yet, I’ll let them do it.

While digging around for more info on Rush, I came across this interview that sums up pretty well what Rush is up to and why it it matters to minority communities.

Davey D: Let me explain what net neutrality is. For people that are listening, it gets a little complicated, so it might seem boring, but it is real important because it is going to change the way that we communicate with one another. Right now if you go on the internet … the internet has been a real god-send for a lot of people. Whether you’re trying to get news across, or whether you’re trying to get your radio show, the Block Report, across to people, or whether you’re just an artist trying to get music from one point to the other, the net allows for you to do that freely, meaning that you’re just one click away. So in other words, if you have your Block Report, your Block Report can be as big as ABC or CNN, because the only thing that everybody has to do is know the address so that they can click to it.

And so that’s been a big problem for the big media conglomerates and a lot of people in power. So let’s say that you find out some dirt on a politician, you can go put it on your report, and all that you have to do is get the address to everybody, and they can access that. If they just click on it, they could get the information.

… So now what you got is these big media outlets, in particular AT&T and Comcast – they’re the leaders. This Congressman, who you should know, Bobby Rush, from the Congressional Black Caucus and a few of these other people have been leading the charge to change the scene.

… Well, what they did in Congress was that they had a thing called the Cope Act, and the Cope Act was basically like the Community Opportunity Program something – I forget the whole acronym – but it was called the Cope Act. This is what Congressman Bobby Rush pushed forth.

Now his angle was that he was trying to tell people, look, if you vote for this act and we get it passed through Congress, this is going to allow people’s cable bills to drop down lower. And he also said that the money that people will have to pay is going to go for research so that the companies like AT&T, Comcast and these other service providers could come up with high speed internet.

Here’s where it gets interesting to me. Why does former Black Panther Bobby Rush really want to make it easier for black people to, say, get BET at cheaper rate, and harder for them to create, distribute, and access web content? Well, because they might dig up dirt on a congressman, as the interviewee said above. So in that sense, is interests jibe rather well with a telecom like At&T, because there are some communities telecoms don’t want to serve if they can help it.

Why would anyone not want to serve an area? Traditionally, because they think they can’t make a profit or because the customers on the wrong side of the “redline” are somehow “undesirable.”

To take a recent example, the county next to mine, Prince George’s (PG) County, is a majority black county (and, in an ironic twist of fate, represented by COPE supporter and general sell-out Al Wynn). It is a fairly wealthy county, with a median income well above the national average. It has some “bad neighborhoods,” mostly extensions of the bad neighborhoods of the Anacostia section of DC, but most of the county is standard middle to upper middle class folk who just happen to be black.

… Now lets move to the world of the tiered internet. Large companies start to pony up. Where do they buy “premium access?”

Answer: only where they think it matters. Companies like Disney or iTunes or whoever else wants to pay for “premium service” will not pay extra to reach “undesirable” or “less cost effective” customers. Why should they? They need to maximize revenue just as much as the phone companies and cable companies do. Why on Earth would I, as a company, pay extra to reach customers I don’t think will pay top dollar for my product? Or, if I am advertiser supported, why would I pay top dollar to reach customers my advertisers won’t pay to reach?

The other side of the coin for pols like Rush and Wynn (and I’ll get back to Al Wynn later), is that who their constituents can reach via the web has political implications that ought to be obvious in 2006, when we’ve seen the web employed to unseat an incumbent U.S. Senator. The message isn’t lost on pols like Rush and Wynn.

There’s political power at stake. The article quoted at the top spells it out pretty plainly.

if network neutrality becomes a black issue when telcos can buy, sell and rent black organizations, when a black congressmen accepts a million dollar telco donation and sponsors legislation that allows the industry to redline and disinvest in our communities, that’s a black issue too.

… The congressman, his donors, and their front organization, Hands Off the Internet claim that handing over the Internet to private corporations and eliminating network neutrality will lower the cost and improve the quality of Internet service for everybody. This is nothing short of an outright lie. According to Stanford University’s Dr. Lawrence Lessig in a recent interview with Robert McChesney, broadband Internet access in France, Japan and South Korea and several other countries is cheaper, faster and more widely available than in the U.S. In every case, they do this by making the provision of service to everyone law and public policy, not leaving it up to “the market” or the whims of private corporations.

All of this reminded me of an AlterNet piece I saw on community wifi a while back, which mentioned that broadband is cheaper in other countries, and spelled out the political implications of internet availability.

Community Internet could revolutionize and democratize communications in this country. But the major obstacle to universal, affordable broadband access for all Americans is not economic or technical. It’s political.

… Community Internet has the potential to revolutionize and democratize communications in this country. And that may be the reason why big cable and telephone companies and their political allies have launched a sophisticated misinformation campaign.

That may be the reason Bobby Rush takes big checks from telecoms, to make sure, as one of the articles above puts it, to make sure that the “right” neighborhoods get faster downloads and that his constituents’ communities remain the “wrong” neighborhoods. Keep the internet out of the “wrong” neighborhoods, or impede access to it, and you keep potential political power out of the “wrong” neighborhoods and — more to the point — out of the hands of the people who live in those neighborhoods.

And it only took $1 million to convince him it should be that way. Kinda cheap for a Black Panther, or it would be for one who still had claws and teeth.

6 Comments

  1. nice post bro. Way to string it all together: incumbent power, communications freedom, net access, content choice.

  2. Excellent, Terrance. This is an issue that we’ve got to keep in front of us. Rush’s corruption is an absolute disgrace. I remember reading back in April about that million dollar “grant:”

    “It is a clear conflict of interest for Rep. Rush to weigh in on this bill,” said Sheila Krumholz, the acting executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which researches money in politics. “People can disagree about where to draw the line on contributions and abstaining from votes, but $1 million is definitely over that line.”

    Rush is the only Democrat to sponsor the “Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006.” He has been working with committee chair Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to promote the “Barton-Rush” bill.

    Rush, asked to explain whether he had a conflict in sponsoring telecommunications legislation in the wake of the grant, replied in a statement that the “real conflict” stems from inequities in the telecommunications marketplace that hurt the poor.

    “It is a systemic institutional disinvestment in [the] poor by corporate America in communities such as Englewood,” Rush said. “We deserve an even playing field.”

    Final check written in 2004

    The SBC Foundation grant was given to the Rebirth of Englewood CDC, a non-profit dedicated to improving the economy of the impoverished South Side community in Rush’s congressional district.

    Rush and his wife, Carolyn, are on the board of the Englewood organization, and his son, Flynn, works for the center. Rush has been a member of the Energy and Commerce panel for more than a decade and serves on its subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

    The SBC charity made the first of a series of payments totaling $1 million in 2001 to the Englewood group to create the still unbuilt “Bobby L. Rush Center for Community Technology.” The final check was written in 2004, with the SBC Foundation delaying the last payment for a year over concerns that the project was not moving forward. The Rush center is now expected to open within the next 12 months.

    In his statement, Rush — seeking to downplay the conflict claim — noted that the $1 million grant “you are referring to is over a half decade old.”

  3. The Bobby L.Rush Center for Community Technology? The great irony is that he’s being paid off by a telecom to impede the community’s access to technology they might use to “unelect” him next time they get the chance.

  4. A clear case of buying our trust, gaining influence, utilizing it to disenfranchise, exacting further payment, and personally profiting in the scheme.

    Can corruption be beautiful?

  5. The million dollars is far from all of it. Bobby has taken roughly $100,000 in Telco donations over the years. These are the numbers starting in 2000:

    2006:
    AT&T – $12,500, Comcast – $10,000, National Cable & Telecom Assn – $5,000, Verizon – $5,000
    That’s from his top 10, and I believe that there are some contributions that have been knocked off the list since the last time I looked. Over $40,000 to one of the safest Congressmen around.

    2004:
    NCTA – $10,000, SBC – $6833, Verizon – $6500

    2002:
    Verizon – $7500, NCTA – $7499, SBC – $7000, BellSouth – $4500

    2000:
    SBC – $14,881, Verizon – $6000

    I’m normally a fan of Bobby, but this net neutrality thing has got me pissed.

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