Telecom Industry Spends $320,000 Every Day Lobbying Against Policies It Doesn’t Like
We’ve noted repeatedly that while “big tech” has faced intense scrutiny over the last few years, “big telecom” has largely seen the exact opposite. Despite being every bit as problematic as tech giants (worse in some ways given their natural monopolies over broadband access), in the last few years the media and telecom sectors (one in the same when it comes to AT&T and Comcast) managed to effectively lobotomize the FCC, obliterate longstanding (and bipartisan) media consolidation rules, gut countless consumer protections, and generally turn the U.S. government into a giant bobble-headed doll with a rubber stamp.
Such favors didn’t come cheap. A new joint study by the top telecom union (CWA) and Common Cause found that during the last Congress alone the telecom lobby spent $234 million lobbying the government, or roughly $320,000 every single day. Comcast of course was the biggest spender at more than $43 million in lobbying expenditure, with AT&T not too far behind at $36 million. Money spent to gut oversight of the telecom sector while these same companies pushed for dramatically expanded oversight of the “big tech” companies whose ad revenues they’ve long coveted.
Given our lobbying disclosure and campaign finance laws are garbage this tally is likely a dramatic undercount, and doesn’t include all the dodgy nonsense the industry uses to influence policy, press coverage, and public discourse. You know, like the fake consumer groups or dead and fake people the telecom industry created to create the illusion of support for the net neutrality repeal. Or the money funneled into DC via so-called “dark money” groups:
“Under Citizens United and its progeny, ISPs, trade associations, and other corporations can make unlimited expenditures in federal elections and unlimited contributions to super PACs and dark money groups to be spent on supporting or opposing federal candidates,? the report said.
In addition to gutting the FCC, killing net neutrality, crushing telecom specific privacy rules, and generally demolishing federal (and state!) consumer protection authority, the report notes how telecom lobbying during the last Congressional period helped dismantle all manner of laws with bipartisan support. Including laws that would have shored up network resiliency in the wake of industry outages after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, laws that would have helped fund community broadband, and laws that would have restored basic consumer protections like net neutrality:
“The groups found that one of the industry?s top targets during the last Congress was the Save the Internet Act, which would have restored net neutrality and the FCC consumer protection authority stripped away during the Trump administration (amidst a flood of empty promises). Telecom lobbyists also fought against the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which includes money to help fund local community broadband. And they successfully derailed the RESILIENT Networks Act, proposed as an attempt to shore up Puerto Rico network resiliency after prolonged telecom outages from hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
It takes a lot of time and money to keep the U.S. government appropriately feckless and slack-jawed in the face of obvious and rampant regional telecom monopolization. All propped up by a very elaborate ecosystem of think tanks, consultants, economists, academics, and marketing firms hired to pretend there’s no actual problem that needs fixing. As such, you really can’t fix the U.S. broadband problem (or any of a number of issues, like climate change) until you tackle the underlying corruption that enables it. But if you hadn’t noticed, there’s no real DC interest in actually doing that, so here we are.
The report recommends shoring up lobbying laws so that lobbyists can’t just tap dance around requirements (see Comcast lobbyist David Cohen avoiding requirements by just calling what he did something else). The report also recommends passing the the For the People Act, which includes several provisions shoring up lobbying and campaign finance loopholes. But given the Congressional votes you’d need to pass such laws are compromised by the very lobbying these proposals want to fix, you’re stuck with a chicken-and-egg scenario where dysfunction and corruption remains the norm.