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Comcast Affiliated News Outlet Censored My Article About Net Neutrality Lobbying
August 1, 2014
In a move that smacks of censorship, Republic Report has discovered that a telecom industry-affiliated lobbying group successfully persuaded an African American news website to remove an article that reported critically on the groups advocating against Net Neutrality. The order to delete the article came from the website's parent company, a business partner to Comcast.
Last Friday, I reported on how several civil rights groups, almost all with funding from Comcast, Verizon and other Internet Service Providers, recently wrote to the Federal Communication Commission in support of Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan, which would create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes, an effective death of Net Neutrality. That piece was syndicated with Salon and The Nation, and several outlets aggregated the article. For a short period, NewsOne, a news site geared towards the African American community, posted the piece along with its own commentary.
Then, the NewsOne article with my reporting disappeared.
If you Google the term `MMTC NewsOne,' the NewsOne article ("Civil Rights Groups Blocking Efforts To Keep Internet Fair?") still appears in the result list, though if you click it, it's been deleted off of the web. Luckily, the Internet cache still has a copy.
According to discussions with several people at NewsOne, including an editor there, the decision to take down the article came from corporate headquarters. NewsOne editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher told Republic Report, "the company didn't feel it was appropriate to have up and we were suppose to take it down." NewsOne is owned by Radio One, a company with a 50.9% stake in a business partnership with Comcast known as TV One.
NewsOne was also contacted by a lobbying group called the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), an organization that has gained infamy for frequently mobilizing Black, Latino and Asian American groups to advocate on behalf of telecom industry-friendly positions, including recent big media mergers. On Monday, according to an attendee at an MMTC conference, MMTC vice president Nicol Turner-Lee referred to my reporting as a "digital lynch mob." Turner-Lee, who resigned her previous position at a nonprofit after allegations of financial impropriety, reportedly claimed that minority organizations that support Title II reclassification - the only path for effective Net Neutrality after a court ruling in January - are not "true civil rights leaders."
Contacted by Republic Report, MMTC president David Honig confirmed that he reached out to NewsOne, and also stood by Turner-Lee's comments from earlier this week. Asked about the digital lynch mob comment, Honig e-mailed us to say, "I stand with Dr. Turner Lee's assessment of the various hit pieces written by you and others. She spoke in the vernacular of the movement to which she has devoted her life, and is referencing the divide and conquer tactics used for decades to undermine the civil rights movement." Regarding the claim that no "true civil rights leaders" support reclassification, Honig replied, "she was correct. Not one of the leaders of the major national civil rights membership organizations has endorsed Title II reclassification."
In fact, many civil rights groups and activists support reclassification and strong Net Neutrality protections. Reached by Republic Report, the organizations were livid about MMTC's insults and the decision by NewsOne to retract its story.
"MMTC is not the arbiter of who is and who is not a true civil rights group," says Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which represents a broad coalition in support of Net Neutrality through reclassification. "For them to claim anyone who supports reclassification is not a true civil rights group is just laughable. We have gone to the mat for our community for decades."
"It's disturbing that an online news site would remove a story just because its owners and their allies might not like it," said Joseph Torres of Free Press, the co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. "This smacks of corporate censorship. A news organization shouldn't be hiding the facts about the Net Neutrality debate because its corporate owners and their allies disagree with a journalist's reporting. This is exactly why we need Net Neutrality. We don't want to live in a world where Comcast or AT&T gets decide which side of the story you see."
Malkia Cyril, Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice, wrote to Republic Report to say, "I'm scared for our journalists, especially those that use the Internet to share their stories. When corporate or 20th century civil rights organizations silence the voices of journalists trying to simply report on the biggest first amendment issue of the 21st century, it only clarifies why we need strong rules that prevent censorship and discrimination on the Internet." Cyril's organization is a national organizing and training center for media rights that counts organizations such as Color of Change, Presente.org and others in its advocacy network.
NewsOne was not the only outlet lobbied by MMTC. The blog Field Negro was also contacted by MMTC's David Honig, a longtime pro-telecom industry operative who told Field Negro that "no one disagrees about the desirability of an open Internet," and argued that Net Neutrality activists are somehow equivalent to white liberals who support gentrification.
In reality, Honig has waged a multi-year war against efforts to build an Open Internet, and the groups in his network continually shift the goal posts to ensure ISPs are allowed to discriminate based on content. For instance, one of the groups that has collaborated with Honig, the Japanese American Citizens League, told the FCC in 2010 that Net Neutrality would "do more harm than good" and that they "remain unconvinced that there is a need for this type of regulation." Well, in Honig's latest letter on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League, Net Neutrality is needed, but only if adopted through FCC Chairman Wheeler's terms, which is to say, with Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.
The arguments keep changing. The only thing that stays consistent is the money and the ISP-friendly policy. Comcast, a major opponent of Net Neutrality, is a big sponsor of both the MMTC (which has received around $350,000) and the Japanese American Citizens League. Honig's board of advisors includes Joe Waz, an executive who has led Comcast's policy outreach.
Asked about the MMTC-organized civil rights group letters against Net Neutrality and ensuing controversy, Professor Todd Gitlin of Columbia University called them the "closest thing I can imagine to a political quid pro quo," explaining, "the evidence they offer on the proposition that minorities would benefit in employment, in access, in the rejection of reclassification is nil. It's a lot of huffing and puffing built on the gullibility of the reader."
He added, "the fact NewsOne saw fit to delete a report that they previously posted without any claim that anything was mistaken in the report tells you something about their commitment to open discourse."
Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, also commented on the NewsOne decision. "Just as corporate cash can corrupt civil rights groups, this incident shows how corporate power can corrupt and censor the news."
Advocates for strong Net Neutrality argue that the rule is necessary so ISPs do not squelch out minority viewpoints with slower speeds. ISPs, on the other hand, say they can be trusted. If just the debate around Net Neutrality is any guide, large media corporations seem willing to suppress unfavorable news content. "If this happens now," says Cayden Mak, the New Media Director of 18MillionRising.org, an Asian American advocacy group, "imagine how difficult it will be to criticize internet providers and their allies without strong Net Neutrality rules."
Leading Civil Rights Groups Just Sold Out On Net Neutrality
July 24, 2014
Last Friday, just before the Federal Communication Commission closed its comment period for its upcoming rule on “network neutrality,” a massive coalition of Asian, Latino and Black civil rights group filed letters arguing that regulators should lay off of Internet Service Providers regarding Title II reclassification and accept FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s original plan. In other words, something close to half of the entire civil rights establishment just sold out the Internet.
The civil rights group letters argue that Title II reclassification of broadband services as a public utility — the only path forward for real net neutrality after a federal court ruling in January — would somehow “harm communities of color.” The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that “we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened.” Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.
The filings reveal a who’s who of civil rights groups willing to shill on behalf of the telecom industry. One filing lists prominent civil rights groups NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Urban League, the National Council on Black Civil Participation and the National Action Network. The other features the Council of Korean Americans, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Black Farmers Association, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, and many more.
Of course, the groups listed on these filings do not speak for all communities of color on telecom policy, and there are civil rights groups out there that actually support net neutrality, including Color of Change and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Joseph Torres with Free Press told VICE that communities of color believe a free and open Internet is essential in the digital age, especially when most non-whites do not own radio stations, broadcast outlets or other forms of mass media. “Protecting real net neutrality is critical for people of color because an open Internet gives us the opportunity to speak for ourselves without having to ask corporate gatekeepers for permission,” Torres says.
A number of K Street consultants have helped make this epic sell-out possible.
The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) coordinated many of the participants in the anti-net neutrality filings sent to the FCC last week. Last year, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation of MMTC, showing that the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Verizon, Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and other telecom sources while reliably peddling the pro-telecom industry positions. For instance, the group attacked the Obama administration’s first attempt at net neutrality, while celebrating the proposed (and eventually successful) merger between Comcast and NBC.
Martin Chavez, the former Mayor of Albuquerque, now works with a group called the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) to corral Latino civil rights groups into opposing net neutrality. Last month, Chavez hosted a net neutrality event on Capitol Hill to call on legislators to oppose Title II reclassification. As TIME recently reported, Chavez is on staff with one of Verizon’s lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group.
“HTTP is nothing more than an industry front-group that is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally distorting facts as it actively opposes efforts to better serve the communications needs of Latinos,” says Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which strongly supports net neutrality. His group has filed its own letter to the FCC.
Still, telecom cash has become a vital source of funding for cash-starved nonprofits. OCA, the Asian American civil rights nonprofit formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans, counts Comcast as a major donor and sponsor for its events and galas. Not only did OCA go on to sign the anti-net neutrality letter last Friday, the group wrote a similar filing to the FCC in 2010, claiming absurdly that Asian American entrepreneurs would benefit from having ISPs able to discriminate based on content. Similarly, League of United Latin American Citizens, better known simply as LULAC, has been a dependable ally of the telecom industry while partnering with Comcast for a $5 million civic engagement campaign. Here’s a picture of LULAC proudly accepting a jumbo-sized check from AT&T.
As VICE first reported, telecoms are desperate for third party approval, and have even resorted to fabricating community support for their anti-net neutrality lobbying campaign.
Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishment have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies have donated, either directly or through a company foundation, to nearly every group listed on the anti-net neutrality letters filed last week. We saw a similar dynamic play out with Wal-Mart when the retailer handed out cash to civil rights groups in order to buy support for opening stores in urban areas.
Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.
Civil Rights Group's FCC Positions Reflect Industry Funding, Critics Say
Center For Public Integrity
June 6, 2013
When the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission pitched a plan to allow more media mergers earlier this year, he received support from a curious source: the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, once an ardent critic of industry consolidation.
Julius Genachowski wanted backing for a proposed loosening of a rule that bars the same company from owning a newspaper and a radio or television broadcast station in a top media market.
MMTC and its executive director, David Honig, have historically opposed relaxing ownership restrictions, saying they protect minority interests. Yet last week, the group released a key study arguing the opposite position.
So why the change of heart?
Critics say MMTC’s position may have something to do with its extensive industry funding. This includes more than $440,000 in luncheon sponsorships since 2010 from broadcast giants who favor the rule change.
In an 18-page response to questions for this article, Honig says the support does not influence the group’s positions.
“The most valuable asset that a nonprofit organization has is its integrity, and to imply that donations and fees influence our positions on issues is to suggest that we lack integrity, something we do not take lightly,” he wrote.
MMTC, which acts as a pro bono law firm on FCC issues for civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was vital if Genachowski was to get his plan approved.
Two previous attempts to change the rule were slapped down by the courts, in part because of concern that greater media consolidation would reduce the number of minority media owners.
MMTC offered to commission the study in February, after voicing its support for Genachowski’s proposal.
Once a shoestring operation dependent almost solely on the volunteer efforts of Honig, MMTC has evolved in recent years into a potent organization that exercises much influence on the commission through its ability to shape the positions of large civil rights organizations on relatively obscure FCC issues.
The media ownership rules passed in the 1970s stemmed in part from the FCC’s failure to take action against TV stations in the South that blacked out coverage of the civil rights movement. They were also inspired by the perceived failures of large media outlets to report on grievances of inner cities that led to the race riots of the late 1960s.
It was believed that restrictions on ownership would lead to greater competition, more locally focused programming and more opportunities for minority ownership.
Consolidation has long been favored by many large broadcasters and newspaper companies, which seek savings by combining advertising and newsroom operations.
After years of defending the rules, Honig, wrote in a blog post in December that the cross-ownership ban should be relaxed, citing concern in minority communities about the decline of newspapers.
What he didn't disclose was the hundreds of thousands of dollars his group had received from CBS Corp., radio giant Clear Channel Communications Inc., Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and the National Association of Broadcasters, an industry lobby group. All four have previously gone to court in an effort to end the ban. News Corp., which Los Angeles Times and a rule-change would clear the way for such a deal.
Clear Channel and News Corp. did not respond to questions for this article. Spokesmen for the NAB and CBS say their organization’s donations weren’t intended to change MMTC’s positions on cross-ownership or other matters.
Honig said the Center’s calculation of sponsorship totals — which were taken from MMTC materials — were “inaccurate.” He said the group may bump up the level of sponsorship of donors “for good will purposes.”
He did not provide alternate figures.
MMTC took in just under $2 million in 2011. Of that, $1.7 million was derived from sponsorships, donations and fees from companies, lobbyists, lawyers and religious broadcasters with interests before the FCC, according to an IRS filing.
“It is important to look at David’s source of funding to determine who David really represents,” says Mark Lloyd, a former associate general counsel and chief diversity officer at the FCC from 2009 until last year. “I think that would tell you a great deal.”
The MMTC ownership study, released last week, concluded the impact of greater consolidation in media ownership on women and minority ownership can’t be a “material justification for tightening or retaining the rules.”
Critics argue that other studies have shown that more media concentration harms small broadcasters, and that most women- and minority-owned broadcasting companies control just a few stations each.
Net neutrality position raises eyebrows
MMTC has also received support from telecommunications and cable firms and its position on broadband regulation and other issues has dovetailed with theirs.
“He’s making arguments that are no different than those made by the big companies and yet they’re presented as those of the civil rights community,” says Craig Aaron, the executive director of Free Press, a group that opposes media consolidation. “Those are his views, but it’s curious how often they’re in line with the filings of Comcast and AT&T.”
Honig says MMTC aims to promote equal opportunity in broadcasting, telecommunications and broadband and that its positions are often in conflict with those of its donors. He pointed to a letter accompanying the ownership study which noted there was "an indication that an especially extensive" cross-media merger could hurt minority ownership in smaller markets."
MMTC’s position on “network neutrality” early in President Barack Obama’s first term angered consumer groups and many technology companies that wanted the government to force Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally.
Proponents of an open Web were concerned that without strong network neutrality rules, broadband providers would be free to offer preferential treatment to deep-pocketed media outlets.
Honig sided with the Internet service providers, arguing that new rules would hurt the ability of cable and telecommunications companies to expand broadband in poor, minority neighborhoods.
"We think that closing the digital divide should be the top priority and that net neutrality should be second," he told the Los Angeles Times.
From 2009 through 2011 MMTC received at least $725,000 in contributions and sponsorships from network neutrality foes including Verizon, Time Warner, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, according to MMTC tax filings and sponsorship lists.
MMTC’s relationship with Verizon demonstrates the group’s various methods of obtaining industry revenue. In 2009, at the height of the net neutrality debate, Verizon made a direct $40,000 contribution to MMTC. From 2010 to 2013, MMTC documents list Verizon as funding at least $160,000 in MMTC conference sponsorships.
Additionally, MMTC worked with Verizon on a $189 million sale of wireless spectrum licenses to minority-owned Grain Management this year — a deal announced in conjunction with a larger $1.9 billion license sale to AT&T. A spokesman for Verizon says money paid to MMTC wasn’t intended to influence its policies but to support its mission of promoting inclusion in the industry.
Some saw Honig playing a key role in organizing traditional civil rights groups like the National Urban League and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to sign on to anti-network neutrality filings with the FCC.
Honig is “the nerve center for much of the action we've seen on the part of the civil rights groups,” blogged James Rucker, then the executive director of ColorOfChange.org, a technology-oriented civil rights group that supported network neutrality.
“In my opinion, Honig is leading many of the respected civil rights groups he is advising off of the digital cliff,” he added.
Rucker isn’t alone in the view that Honig uses his credibility with civil rights organizations and expertise in communications law to influence them to take positions on complex issues that primarily benefit industry players.
Honig “undermines trust in his organization’s legacy” when he urges groups to join his advocacy campaign and they later find out the issues aren’t quite what they expected, says Cheryl Leanza, co-chairwoman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights’ media and telecommunications task force.
“He does a disservice to his past work when other organizations take his advice and they don’t know the consequences or implications of that advice.”
Leanza says her views are her own, not those of the LCCR.
Civil rights activist
Honig began his civil rights activism in the 1960s as a high school student, when he became a youth leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Rochester, New York.
He earned a law degree from Georgetown in 1983, and after the FCC under President Ronald Reagan suspended key minority broadcast ownership rules, he co-founded MMTC on a shoestring budget.
He mixed MMTC’s advocacy with litigation on behalf of civil rights groups. In the 1990s he led a high profile but unsuccessful legal battle representing the N.A.A.C.P. in its effort to prevent Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the parent of Fox Broadcasting Co. and the owner of a New York City television station, from gaining a waiver from the cross-ownership rule to buy the New York Post—the same rule Honig now favors eliminating.
In 1991, on behalf of LULAC, the N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights groups, his legal work helped spur an FCC investigation and long-running legal fight with the country’s largest Christian television network, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
Known for its broadcasts of televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and network founders Paul and Jan Crouch, Honig accused TBN of setting up a sham minority corporation to win additional FCC broadcast licenses.
Honig helped spur the FCC to restore equal employment rules to the cable and broadcast industry in 2002 and pass a 2007 rule preventing advertisers from instructing their agencies not to place spots on radio stations with large black and Hispanic audiences.
By the late 1990s, Honig had also found a way to successfully fund MMTC. In 1998, MMTC began collecting fees from broadcasters in return for helping them sell stations to minority buyers — earning $450,000 that year alone by helping Clear Channel sell a Boston station for $5 million, according to a report in the trade newspaper Broadcasting & Cable. The story noted that Honig was able to begin paying himself a $41,125 salary.
The report also said that rival brokers were complaining that one MMTC client, CBS Corp., did not typically use brokers and had retained Honig “only to curry favor with the diversity-minded FCC.”
In 2002, the group added an annual “Access to Capital” fundraising luncheon, which helped net it $22,806. Honig’s compensation had risen to $161,000, according to tax filings.
By 2006, the luncheon had become so successful at attracting industry interest it had been expanded to two days and was addressed by three of the FCC’s five sitting commissioners — MMTC raised $291,334.
Additionally, the non-profit MMTC began accepting donated broadcast properties.
In 2008, Mega Communications, a Spanish radio network owned by New York art collector Adam Lindemann, donated a Tampa Bay area AM station to MMTC. Honig says the station was used to train women and minorities. MMTC sold the station for $1.15 million last year to Christian broadcaster Salem Communications.
In 2010, Trinity Broadcasting Network donated 147 low-power television stations to MMTC. That year MMTC awarded TBN, along with Clear Channel, its “Extraordinary Service Award,” an annual prize given for those “who have far exceeded the call of duty in the service of the civil rights cause,” according to MMTC’s website.
The FCC soon reclaimed the licenses of many of the TBN stations, but in 2011 MMTC sold 78 of the stations for $390,000 to a Tennessee company run by broadcast entrepreneur Henry Luken, whose holdings include The Nashville Network and the male-oriented Tuff TV.
TBN declined to comment on the donation. Honig says MMTC did not solicit the donation from TBN, and that Luken has pledged to enact a training program for women and minorities as part of the deal.
By the time of the sale of the former TBN stations, MMTC had grown substantially. In 2011, the last year for which tax forms are available, it reported almost $2.8 million in net assets.
Honig’s salary had also increased to $212,072. His addresses included a waterfront home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore assessed at $856,700, according to Maryland property records.
Today its website lists eight lawyers, two researchers and a communications director. Its brokerage team includes three others, two of whom are former Clear Channel staffers. MMTC ranked as the seventh-largest broadcast broker in the U.S. in 2011, and has worked on deals valued at $1.8 billion over the past 15 years. Honig, 63, says he plans to semi-retire next year.
Comcast and AT&T
Among the group’s most generous donors is cable giant Comcast, which, according to MMTC documents has spent at least $375,000 on fundraising luncheons and conferences in Washington hosted by MMTC between 2009 and this year.
In addition to taking Comcast's side on Net Neutrality, Honig publicly hailed its 2011 buyout of NBC Universal.
Honig publicly hailed Comcast’s 2011 buyout of NBC Universal saying the $16.7 billion merger was “a win for all Americans, especially minority and low-income consumers who have largely been left out of the digital equation.” The deal required Comcast to expand broadband to low-income Americans and create 10 new television channels in partnership with minorities.
NBC Universal contributed $150,000 to MMTC in 2010, and retained MMTC’s brokerage arm to help it sell a Los Angeles TV station as required under terms of the deal.
“We supported MMTC's work for years prior to the NBC Universal transaction,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, in an email response to questions about the relationship. “We support a wide variety of organizations and they don't always support all of our policy positions just as we don't always support all of their policy positions.”
MMTC also supported a failed attempt by AT&T to buy T-Mobile in 2011 for $39 billion, the group’s first endorsement of a media and telecom merger in its 25-year history. The combination would benefit minority broadband consumers by allowing AT&T to expand service to more than 97 percent of consumers, Honig wrote in a brief to the FCC.
Groups such as the National Hispanic Media Center and the Center for Media Justice disagreed, arguing that T-Mobile was the low-cost carrier and that its elimination would not only harm consumers but disproportionately affect minority customers.
In 2010 and 2011, AT&T and T-Mobile provided $240,000 in sponsorships to MMTC fundraising events, according to MMTC documents. A number of other civil rights groups such as the NAACP and Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation also backed the proposed merger and also received AT&T funding.
At the time the chairman of MMTC’s board, former FCC Commissioner Henry Rivera, worked at law firm Wiley Rein, which represented T-Mobile in the merger. Julia Johnson, then MMTC’s treasurer and its current board president, runs a public relations firm whose clients have included AT&T, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
AT&T relayed questions about the relationship to Honig, who defends MMTC’s stance in the merger, citing AT&T’s record of hiring minority staff and suppliers. Johnson, Fitzgerald and Rivera recused themselves from voting on MMTC’s position on the merger, he said.
“MMTC’s officers and directors are highly skilled, experienced individuals, and they all serve pro bono,” said Honig, adding: “No MMTC officer or director would tolerate attempts at ‘purse-string advocacy.’”
Long-time public interest lawyer and MMTC board member Andrew Schwartzman says a turning point for the group came when it entered telecom advocacy. He says Honig is “well-motivated” but on some telecom issues “misguided rather than improperly influenced.”
Schwartzman’s own organization, the Media Access Project, closed its doors last year due to a lack of funds. He does not see MMTC’s positions as being “dictated by specific corporate contributions.”
“I don’t see these as a sudden transactional relationship but something longstanding,” he added, in reference to the donations.
Alex Nogales, the director of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, is less forgiving.
"We're disappointed in David," said Nogales. "He's gotten a bit too chummy with the industry and he's tried to drag us into those machinations and I don't appreciate it."
He says he resigned his spot as a member of MMTC’s board because of concerns about its growing corporate ties.
Whether the MMTC’s cross-media ownership study will lead to a relaxation of media ownership rules is a matter that will be decided under its next chairman.
Either way, the MMTC is looking to remain a key player at the FCC under the new regime.
President Obama’s pick for the spot, Tom Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, was endorsed by the group just hours after news of his selection was leaked to the media.
John Dunbar contributed to this report.