Another Corrupt Congressman from Texas: The Next DeLay?

With More Than $500,000 in SBC Stock Options, Pete Sessions Gets in Bed with the Telcos to Stifle Local Efforts to Bring the Internet to More Americans

US Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) -- a 16-year Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SBC) executive and sponsor of a bill that would eliminate communities' ability to deliver low-cost, high-speed internet to their citizens – still owns more than half a million dollars worth of stock options in SBC. If passed, Session’s proposed legislation would provide a windfall for his former employer and other major cable and telephone companies, giving them veto power over locally supported efforts to provide internet at a cost more Americans can afford.

Sessions stands to gain as well. According to his "Financial Disclosure Statement for Calendar Year 2003," the former SBC executive owns $500,000 in SBC stock options and received more than $75,000 from SBC and it’s employees. It's no wonder he would sponsor legislation that is supported by nobody in this country except for the telecom and cable giants that punch his ticket. The Congressman's 2004 disclosure statement will be released June 15.

With this action, Sessions is rapidly joining the ranks of fellow Texas lawmaker Tom Delay as Capitol Hill's most corrupt.

The legislation in question, ironically called "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005" (HR 2726), would "prohibit municipal governments from offering telecommunications, information, or cable services." States, counties, cities, and towns looking to provide broadband services could not do so if they are anywhere within the same geographic area as a private company that has "substantially similar service. "

Soon, nearly all information – TV, radio, telephone and the web will be delivered via high speed broadband. Locally supported internet projects provide access to broadband at $10 a month instead of the $30 to $50 rate levied by the communications companies. Community Internet connects rural communities, attracts new businesses, serves schools, libraries and public safety sectors. It will make access to the information superhighway affordable and accessible to everyone.

According to his 2003 filing, Sessions also holds considerable stock in other communications companies – including Verizon, AT&T, and Bell South -- that stand to gain considerably from limiting local efforts to provide cheap internet access to more Americans. The filing also lists his wife Juanita as collecting a salary from Southwestern Bell Internet Services, a subsidiary of SBC (See Schedule I). Sessions doesn't indicate how much Juanita makes from this arrangement.

It's clear, however, from the Congressman's internal public relations and related press that she spends the bulk of her time, not holding down a nine-to-five job at SBC, but as a homemaker taking care of their two children. This begs the obvious question: "What does Juanita actually do to earn income from SBC?"

Backroom dealing between telcos and greedy elected officials has become the modus operandi of corporations seeking to protect their Internet fiefdoms from these municipal internet initiatives. Their aim is to paint Community Internet as an affront to American innovation and free enterprise.

Nothing could be further from the truth. These ISPs are loath to loosen their stranglehold on a market that, according to the Telecommunications Industry Association, could yield $212.5 billion in revenues by 2008. With so much at stake, they have opted to smother innovative local efforts to provide high-speed internet to more Americans. Legislators like Sessions have their hands out, ready to to introduce anti-access legislation, such as HR 2726, dictated to them word for word by their corporate masters.

Free Press has called on Sessions to come clean about a conflict of interest that impugns his integrity as a public servant. On Friday, June 10, we also launched a petition asking members of Congress to not stand in the way of local governments serving the needs of local citizens.

This isn’t about "preserving innovation" but about protecting corporate fiefdoms. The major telephone and communications companies are scrambling to maintain their stranglehold over the future of communications in America, and will stop at nothing to put profits ahead of efforts to bridge the digital divide. Why compete when you can pay off corrupt politicians to legislate away all other Internet options?