The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the most powerful corporate front group you’ve never heard of. Drawing the vast majority of its financing from big corporations, the group allows these firms to help write bills that it then secretly passes off to state legislators to get turned into laws.
The organization has come under fire recently for backing “Stand Your Ground” laws and voter suppression efforts, leading to an exodus of some of its strongest corporate funders. But the group’s policy agenda stretches far beyond these areas, and impacts just about every area of American life.
Take public high-speed broadband Internet. A few years ago, the city of Wilson, North Carolina, decided that it would create its own broadband system, which it called Greenlight. The service offered speeds twice as fast as private competitors in the area for a similar price. Soon, the success of the service spread, and a number of other cities began offering municipal broadband systems that were cheaper and/or faster than private competitors’.
But state legislators — who received $600,000 in contributions from the telecom industry in the previous election cycle — reacted to the spread of these successful services by undercutting them with a bill that made it very difficult for cities to operate their own broadband systems. One provision in the bill made it illegal for cities to offer broadband services that are priced below their costs. “This bill will make it practically impossible for cities to provide a fundamental service. Where’s the bill to govern [cable provider] Time Warner? Let’s be clear about whose bill this is. This is Time Warner’s bill. You need to know who you’re doing this for!” thundered Rep. Bill Faison (D) at the time. The bill was unfortunately passed into law.
NOTE: Similarly, the cost of text messaging is grossly overpriced: “Operating costs are relatively insensitive to volume. It doesn’t cost the carrier much more to transmit a hundred million messages than a million.”
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