Ever since the FCC decided to reclassify broadband as a communication service — preserving its basic regulatory authority over high-speed Internet — the big telephone and cable companies have been on the attack.

One telecom industry front group, Americans for Prosperity, announced a $1.4 million ad blitz to smear the move as a “government takeover of the Internet.” And the telecoms also enlisted their allies in Congress to speak out against the move. Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) is pushing a letter which calls on the FCC to abandon its plans to oversee broadband — a move which would in effect end efforts to protect consumers and extend Internet access to all Americans.

Last week, I urged black members of Congress not to sign this letter. But we quickly learned that Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Lacy Clay (D-MO), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Greg Meeks (D-NY), Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) didn’t get the message. ColorOfChange members quickly reacted, placing more than 1750 calls in the span of 48 hours. From our recent press release:

“Our members are deeply concerned that by signing Green’s letter, black members of Congress are taking a stance that fails to secure our digital rights,” said James Rucker, executive director of ColorOfChange.org. “Some CBC members have perhaps signed Rep. Green’s letter without fully understanding what is at stake while others seem to know, but are serving other interests. There is a significant correlation between those leading the charge and those accepting significant contributions from the industry which stands to benefit from the FCC being rendered impotent. In either case, our members are eager to make clear how important this issue is to our community and to Americans in general, and to explain why they see this as a 21st century civil rights issue.”

We’ve long been concerned that Black leaders and organizations that have taken significant financial contributions from telecom interests could open themselves up to conflicts of interest that mean they don’t make decisions which best serve their constituents and all Americans. Recent donation levels suggest that dynamic may be at play now. The figures below represent total contributions from telecom interests during the 2010 election cycle. Research comes from Open Secrets:

G.K. Butterfield: $30,500
Yvette Clarke: $10,500
Lacy Clay: $9,000
Alcee Hastings: $15,000
Eddie Bernice Johnson: $8,000
Gregory Meeks: $27,000
Bobby Rush: $23,000
Bennie Thompson: $15,000

We all have a role to play in making sure that our leaders are accountable to the people who elect them, and not the corporations that fund their campaigns. You can help by using our calling tool at http://www.colorofchange.org/cbcnet_calls and letting these members know what you think. And we’ll be sure to keep you informed as this important campaign progresses.

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