Broadband Providers, Big Money, and the Price of an Open Broadband Internet
In an editorial entitled The Price of Broadband Politics, the New York Times aptly captured the big-money politics facing the F.C.C. in its push to ensure an open, nondiscriminatory, and competitive access to broadband Internet. The New York Times writes:
“One good measure of the intensity with which phone and cable companies dislike the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to extend its regulatory oversight over access to broadband Internet is the amount of money they are spending on political contributions.
Last month, 74 House Democrats sent a letter to the F.C.C.’s chairman, Julius Genachowski, warning him “not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it.” Rather than extend its authority over telecommunications networks to broadband under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, they demanded that the F.C.C. wait for Congress to pass specific legislation.
The message parroted views held by AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — the biggest broadband service providers in the country. (Comcast warned that the F.C.C.’s efforts could “chill investment and innovation.”) Their executives and political action committees have been among the top 20 campaign contributors to 58 of the 74 lawmakers in the past two election cycles.
As the F.C.C. proceeds with its plan to regulate broadband access, it seems likely we can expect more of this resistance from members of Congress.
Political contributions from AT&T in the current election cycle reached $2.6 million by May 16, on the way to exceeding the total in each of the last three elections. The company has contributed to the campaigns of every Republican and all but three Democrats on the subcommittee that deals with the Internet in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It has given money to more than half the members of the equivalent Senate panel.
Comcast has spent more than $2 million on campaign donations; Verizon has given $1.2 million. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association — the industry’s collective lobbying group — has spent about $1 million more. And just in case that isn’t persuasive enough of the ills of government regulation, telephone and cable companies spent $20.6 million lobbying the government in the first quarter of the year.
The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks industry lobbying, reported that cable and phone companies had 276 former government officials lobbying for them in the first quarter, including 18 former members of Congress and 48 former staffers of current members of Congress on committees with jurisdiction over the Internet. The list includes former staffers of at least six of the House Democrats who signed the letter to the F.C.C.
To us, it seems obvious that the Federal Communications Commission should extend its oversight to broadband, the most important telecommunications network of our time, to guarantee open, nondiscriminatory and competitive access and to protect consumers’ rights.
But reason is not always a match for money in Washington. The F.C.C. has a rough road ahead.”