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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More un-lobbying for a state broadband network

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 10:28 AM

click to enlarge THE UNLOBBY: A website that urges legislative contact quacks a lot like a lobby duck to me.
  • THE UNLOBBY: A website that urges legislative contact quacks a lot like a lobby duck to me.
FASTERArkansas, the 501c4 political group formed to press for expansion of the state broadband system to public schools has announced a news conference Thursday to continue its push.

FASTER leaders Kathy Smith of Walton Enterprises, Jerry Jones of Acxiom, Kendall Gibbons of Arvest and Dumas school sueprintendent David Rainey will speak.

Phone companies are fighting FASTER's effort to repeal the 2011 law that prohibits school districts from hooking into the existing AREON network. They figure it will cost them money.

You may recall that the money being spent to set up FASTER news conferences and the group's website and other PR initiatives  to change the law are not seen by this group as lobbying under terms of state law. I think they're wrong. They've spent $500 to influence government action. With some success, I might add. Gov. Mike Beebe is certainly on board.

The Waltons are clearly bankrolling this. Fine. But I stlil don't understand why a high-dollar, high-power effort to change state law doesn't qualify for the financial reporting requirements that everybody else needs to follow when lobbying.

I'll say again I'm no shill for the phone companies. If anything, I tend to accept FASTER's central idea that a unified state system would be cheaper and more efficient in reaching all schools with adequate broadband. Doesn't mean FASTER shouldn't be transparent. And phone companies have some fair questions about technical capabilities of school districts, the accuracy of data on existing service and the political reality that this proposal is also about cost-shifting of public dollars from colleges to secondary schools. Fight on. But disclose.

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