Following the broadband money

BT and the AstroTurf wars

with 7 comments

 A derelict BT microwave mast. © Copyright Peter Barrington and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence Share alike 2.0.

A derelict BT microwave mast. © Copyright Peter Barrington and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence Share alike 2.0.

For the past week BrokenTelephone has been conducting a private correspondence with Peter Barrington who goes by the internet handle of Somerset.

Barrington has been a prolific commentator on BrokenTelephone, as noted here. His comments have been partial, and biased towards fulfilling BT’s agenda with respect to next generation broadband. Although often invited to debate issues, he refuses to reply when the answer may be unfavourable to BT.

BrokenTelephone has tolerated Barrington’s comments, whose volume amounts to spam,  in the interests of free speech. However, one of his private letters in the correspondence noted above gave pause for thought.

In response to the earlier story about a business park in the Bovey Tracey exchange area, Barrington sought help establishing how one could work out how many businesses there might be in a post case area. We published his email address so that people could help Barrington directly as the issue was peripheral to the story. As it turned out, a reader simply replied in a comment.

Even before that, Barrington asked that his email address be removed. I demurred. Barrington then wrote, more politely, “Would you please remove my email details from your website. We contribute to these sites on the basis that email details will not be published, particularly due to the possibility of spam and disclosure of personal information.”

Why “We”? Why “sites”?

As anyone who has an interest in how the government is spending £1.4bn of taxpayers’ money with BT knows, this subject area is full of commentators who push the BT line exclusively, who will not acknowledge contrary evidence, safe in the knowledge that “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

This is known as “Astroturfing”. According to Wikipedia, this is “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message (e.g. political, advertising, or public relations) to give the appearance of it coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant. Astroturfing is intended to give the statements the credibility of an independent entity by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.”

Barrington claims BT doesn’t pay him. However, he also claims to be a former BT engineer, so as a BT pensioner he has a pecuniary if indirect interest in BT’s fortunes.

Wikipedia goes on, “Some studies suggest astroturfing can alter public viewpoints and create enough doubt to inhibit action.”

It adds astroturfing threatens the legitimacy of genuine grassroots movements.

The authors of an article in the Journal of Business Ethics, quoted by Wikipedia, argue that astroturfing that is “purposefully designed to fulfil corporate agendas, manipulate public opinion and harm scientific research represents a serious lapse in ethical conduct.”

If BT has to resort to astroturfing to make its case, how strong can its case really be?


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/27 at 23:56

7 Responses

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  1. Why “We”? Why “sites”? – We the people comment on multiple sites on the internet. Does that meet the grammatical requirements.


    2014/01/28 at 08:00

  2. I had him down as a troll so just blocked him on twitter and stuff and won’t reply to his inane comments. But you may be right, it does sound like he’s an astroturfer. I just thought he was a bit simple, but he does waste an awful lot of people’s time and resources if you let him.


    2014/01/28 at 08:04

  3. After following Twitter exchanges and the like for a while, you get a sense of where sentiments or loyalties lie. The sudden silence at a certain point in the exchange/argument can be telling! It’s probably the nearest you get to a point conceded.

    Miles Mandelson

    2014/01/28 at 12:24

  4. propaganda for the modern age , instil Fear Uncertainty and Doubt on an competitor and praise your pay master.. This isn’t a new technique but Social media anonymity really lends itself to this cause.

    I personally think fixed wireless is great! and that dodgy copper cable will never catch on, i have heard it breaks easy if trees fall on it etc.. 😀


  5. I have enjoyed and learnt from Somersets comments and his wish for his email to be kept provate ought to be respected. He for instance ought to have interesting perpective on PAC hearings on Monday 17th -16:53 where BDUK have identified 1/3 savings on project management costs for Norfolk Suffolk. As a shareholder, he ought to be very angry that BT is choosing to wait for BDUK to hunt for these efficiencies so the state aid can be spent on broadband assets and network improvements which improve service/revenues and possible returns to shareholders. He would I hope also support the PAC efforts to establish the truth so the available monies can be invested in assets not overheads to optimise service for customers and thus ARPU and some profit on a reguated asset.

    As a shareholder he would not wish, due to the action of a small number of BT seniors to bring to a company he worked for all his life into disrepute.

    Proper accountability on BT expenditure will result in a better more efficient network with increased ARPU, which is why the £1.4bn is once in a lifetime opportunity. The evidence from PAC is that BT project teams are not aligned to deliver that but look set up to graze at the trough. On the two showings so far at PAC, shareholders, customers, advocates of public investment should at BT’s representation.

    As proud as Somerset might be he will not be blind to what these executives are doing for themselves and their short term bonuses, rather than the long term well being of a national resource of which is a small owner. He will not be blind that these actions will be preventing the Government spending more with BT, while seeking new ways to regulate it. If he is as active defending BT on some sites he will not be shy making his views known to the BT board and getting some fix before the executives in charge do mucg damage before they move on or retire.

    NGA for all

    2014/01/29 at 12:38

    • I welcome Peter Barrington’s (aka Somerset) continuing contributions, but under his own name. I agree his questions have improved the quality of information available to readers, and provoked interesting new lines of enquiry. I would welcome evidence that he is as even-handed as you suggest he might be.


      2014/01/29 at 13:21

      • Sommerset has in several individual case listed the jobs -thus the constituent elements of a job and the Openreach request for gap funding. This is definitely very helpful peer review and educational for the practical nitty gritty of fixing and costing the unusual. Lining these up helps to see the good Openreach at work and there is a great deal of it – thankfully. He has definitely stopped me several times adding 2+2 making 8 highlighting the missing and legitmate 4.

        Any impact on anyone’s family however remote should be top of mind. The New_Londoner whoever and whatever collective it is also very helpful. I for one rehearse, test, assemble ideas and arguements so loud critics prove good friends indeed.

        NGA for all

        2014/01/29 at 17:00

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