Morning Joe's Net Neutrality Conflict Of Interest

MSNBC's Harold Ford, Jr. used air time to push net neutrality myths without disclosing his relationship to the telecom industry, which has contributed millions of dollars to lobbying against net neutrality regulations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote February 26 on a proposal for stronger net neutrality regulations drafted by chairman Tom Wheeler and detailed in a February 4 op-ed on Wired's website. According to The New York Times, Wheeler's proposed net neutrality rules “will give the commission strong legal authority to ensure that no content is blocked and that the internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. Those prohibitions are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept.”

On the February 5 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, political analyst Harold Ford, Jr. raised the issue of net neutrality, claiming that the proposed FCC plan to regulate internet service as a utility would “stifle investment.”

FORD: Whatever your thoughts about what Obama said in his State of the Union message -- some of it I liked, a lot of it I didn't like -- but one take away that both parties should take from it  is that he talked about empowering the middle class. Now if you're about raising wages and creating jobs you ought to do those things.

I think what's happening in Washington today -- you saw that F.C.C. Chair come out and say we've got to regulate the internet like a utility. That's not going to create higher paying jobs, it will actually stifle investment. You talk about wanting to reduce taxes on small businesspeople, Republicans want to reduce the corporate tax, Democrats want an infrastructure plan  -- government, I'm old-fashioned, I think you are, too. We believe government can work. You've got to come together and compromise if you want it to happen.

Neither Ford nor MSNBC disclosed that the analyst is an "honorary co-chair" of Broadband for America, an industry-funded group whose members have included major national broadband providers like Comcast (a parent company of MSNBC), Cox Communications, and Verizon. Among its members, Broadband for America received a $2 million donation from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has spent millions of dollars to lobby against net neutrality regulations.

Moreover, Ford's suggestion that net neutrality would “stifle investment” is dubious. The National Bureau of Economic Research stated that “there is unlikely to be any negative impact from such regulation on [Internet Service Provider] investment.” Broadband executives themselves, while staunchly against regulation, have admitted it won't affect their investment in infrastructure. Google, a proponent of net neutrality regulations, suggested the move would “promote competition and spur more investment.”

This is not the first time a Comcast subsidiary has failed to disclose telecom industry ties during coverage of FCC broadband regulations. In 2014, CNBC's Kelly Evans interviewed Ford and John Sununu about proposed regulations, introducing the guests as “Broadband for America honorary co-chairs” without disclosing the interest that the telecom industry-funded Broadband for America has in limiting government regulation of broadband access.