Documents obtained through the breach of George Soros' Open Society Foundations reveal a comprehensive vision for the future of the Internet, with the philanthropic group funding at least 13 organizations to promote expanding government-funded access and encouraging regulatory influence over the content users view.
Minutes from an October 2015 board meeting shed light on the plans in broad terms, noting OSF hopes to fund and "solidify" like-minded civic organizations "into a field of mutually supporting, well-coordinated groups that can connect to broad and diverse constituencies.
"Our strategy in this area involves reviving and protecting Internet neutrality, expanding Internet access, building municipal broadband networks, and securing stronger on-line privacy protections," the minutes note. "The field is facing multiple simultaneous threats, including the fight over dueling net neutrality proposals, attempts to further consolidate telecommunications companies, and the industry's efforts to restrict municipalities' ability to build their own broadband networks and to offer services to nearby communities."
The documents reveal OSF dedicated millions to organizations in the "field." The largest included seven grants, totaling $3.68 million, for a multi-year effort to promote "community broadband," a reference to local governments subsidizing broadband access and development.
Another $1.8 million in grants was provided to the Berkman Center at Harvard University, the Center for Media Justice, the Media Democracy Fund, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute and the Center for Social Inclusion "to support its research on race and broadband access."
Some of the funds went to organizations purportedly supporting freedom of the press and an "open Internet." That included one $650,000 grant to Free Press for the 2015-16 fiscal year, an organization that describes itself as supporting "the right to connect and communicate" through engaging and mobilizing the public "on Internet and media policy issues."
Critics says OSF's definition of "openness" should be taken with a grain of salt. A memo leaked from the foundation's Justice Initiative argues that an "underaddressed challenge" for the open Internet is a lack of government involvement, "including lack of regulation of private operators that are able to decide, without due process procedures, what information is taken off the Internet and what may remain.
"We seek to ensure that, from among the norms emerging in different parts of the world, those most supportive of open society gain sway," the memo adds.
Drew Johnson, who heads the nonprofit Protect Internet Freedom, unaffiliated with OSF, said the documents confirm conservative criticism of the foundation. "The leaks give a troubling insight to Soros' method of peddling influence," Johnson told the Washington Examiner. "He uses his foundation to give money to a few cronies in the think tank, activist, academic and media worlds to create an echo chamber."
Beyond organizations engaged in education and activism, Soros contributed to others engaged in nonpartisan journalism. Some of those included the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative News Network, the MIT Center for Civic Media, National Public Radio and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The latter organization drew criticism from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in August. In an interview with the New York Times, he called it a "Rockefeller-Ford outfit" that followed "an anti-WikiLeaks model" by selectively publishing documents provided by whistleblowers.
Assange said Thursday that his organization intended to publish more information about Soros, and he offered separate criticism of DCLeaks, the website responsible for publishing OSF's files.
"We will be publishing quite a lot of information about George Soros," Assange said in an interview on Sean Hannity's radio program Thursday. "It has already been published elsewhere, in an unusable form. That's part of what we do as well."