Investors to Telecom Companies: Let Shareholders Vote on Open Intenet for All

NEW YORK – A group of investors – ranging from Mike D of the Beastie Boys to the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica of Atchison, Kansas – has filed proposals with the nation’s largest telecom companies calling for shareholder votes on net neutrality policies that would maintain open access to the Internet on wireless networks.

The latest proposal regarding wireless networks was filed last week (Dec. 10) by shareholders of Comcast Corporation.  Similar proposals were filed recently with AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.  A separate proposal on open Internet policies has been filed with CenturyLink Inc.

“Net neutrality really is the free speech issue of the 21st century - it affects all Americans and their ability to access the content they want online, especially as more and more people rely on wireless and mobile devices for access to the Internet,” said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, a nonprofit organization that seeks to inform corporations’ responsible media management practices, which has worked to organize the shareholder initiative.

“Preserving net neutrality is necessary to insure competition, entrepreneurship, innovation and free expression in the digital economy. That’s why it’s important for shareholders to be heard on this issue,” said Farnum Brown, Chief Investment Strategist for Trillium Asset Management Corporation, an independent investment firm with more than $900 million under management.  Brown is also Chair of the Open MIC Board of Directors.

The shareholder proposals call on AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to do the right thing and proactively ensure their wireless networks remain free and provide equal access and non-discriminatory treatment for all content. Unless the companies are successful in blocking the proposals, they are expected to be voted on at the companies’ annual meetings in Spring 2011.

AT&T has already moved at the Securities and Exchange Commission to prevent shareholders from even considering the proposal - making the argument that the issue is too complex for shareholders to understand and that only management is entitled to evaluate the merits of net neutrality.

“These issues are certainly ripe for consideration by investors” said Pat Doherty, Director of Corporate Governance for the New York State Comptroller’s Office, which manages the $130 billion New York State pension funds.  “It’s important that shareholders be given an opportunity to be heard on matters such as this that are critical to the financial future of these companies as well as the economic growth of the broader U.S. economy.”

As one measure of strong shareholder and institutional investor sentiment on net neutrality, the proposal addressing open Internet policies at CenturyLink has been voted on twice in recent years and each time has attracted approximately 30 percent of the shareholder vote in favor.  “That level of shareholder support is a clear and notable indication of investor concern about these issues,” said Jonas Kron, Vice President and Deputy Director for Shareholder Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management.

The proposals at AT&T, Verizon and Comcast cite research by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University which concluded that an open Internet accounts for billions of dollars of economic value for Americans. 

The latest filing, with Comcast, comes little more than a week before the Federal Communications Commission is expected to issue new regulations on net neutrality. Initial indications are that the Commission may provide a broad exemption from network neutrality rules for wireless broadband networks – the fastest growing segment of the Internet. Without including wireless networks, there will be a major loophole in any new regulations.

 For more information about recent net neutrality issues, visit www.openmic.org.

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The Open Media and Information Companies Initiative - Open MIC - is a nonprofit organization working to promote a vibrant, diverse media ecosystem through market-based solutions. Founded in late 2006, Open MIC is a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Trillium Asset Management Corporation is a full-service investment management firm dedicated to meeting the long-term financial and social goals of its individual, family and institutional clients.