Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Exposing D.C.’s Anti-Democratic Opposition to Net Neutrality

Tracking the influence economy that fuels Washington, D.C., is no easy task.

Powerful corporate special interests are experts at concealing their expenditures through dark-money groups, Astroturf fronts, unethical think tanks and other influence-laundering operations.

Powerful corporate special interests are experts at concealing their expenditures through dark-money groups, Astroturf fronts, unethical think tanks and other influence-laundering operations.

Even lobbying expenditures, which must be disclosed under law, can be difficult to track. Open Secrets, the online service that allows people to access lobbying and campaign-spending data, doesn’t take into account the complicated and shifting formulations that companies take over time.

The real numbers often get lost as corporations undergo mergers and acquisitions, or either function as subsidiaries or hold multiple subsidiaries of their own. To get a full picture of AT&T’s spending since 1998, for example, one must also lump in lobbying expenditures made by Ameritech Corp, BellSouth Corp, Excite@Home, SBC Communications, Southwestern Bell and other corporate entities that have since been folded under the AT&T banner.

It’s that convoluted. Thankfully, the researchers at Comparitech took the time to wade through the hot mess of data to present a more complete view of some of the largest influence spenders in Washington: internet service providers. Their analysis shows which ISPs are spending how much to influence communications policy in Washington, D.C. And it’s not a pretty picture.

No Surprises

Hardly shocking are the three top ISP spenders — AT&T, Verizon and Comcast — which have respectively amassed lobbying expenses of $341 million, $265 million and $200 million since 1998, when they first started reporting this information.

Also not surprising is that Deutsche Telekom (of which T-Mobile USA is a subsidiary) and Sprint together spent more than $11 million in 2018 to lobby on behalf of their controversial merger proposal, which Free Press actively opposes.

To curry more favor, T-Mobile has spent an additional $200,000 or so at Washington’s Trump International Hotel, where executives have stayed in the $2,246-a-night suite.

Sound corrupt? It is. And shady hotel expenditures are the focus of several lawsuits alleging Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids him from accepting payments from foreign entities.

The Comparitech report also puts into stark relief the extent to which lawmakers will go to keep lobbyists and corporate donors happy, even if it means blatantly defying their own constituents’ wishes.

Policy payola

The top ISP spenders on lobbying — again, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast — have staked out a highly unpopular position against Net Neutrality protections. And they’ve held tight to it since the issue first emerged some 15 years ago.

And yet poll after poll shows that people in the United States of all political stripes favor the establishment of Net Neutrality under law.

A University of Maryland survey found that 86 percent of voters opposed the Trump FCC’s 2017 repeal of Title II Net Neutrality rules, including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats. Legislation now under consideration in Congress, the Save the Internet Act, would do right by these people, reversing the FCC decision and making Net Neutrality the law of the land.

Another Comparitech poll found that 77 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats support the Title II Net Neutrality safeguards the Save the Internet Act would restore.

While the bill sailed through the House, it’s stalled in the Senate, where Mitch McConnell refuses to bring it to a vote.

Certain dark corners of Congress and the FCC are the only places in the country where we don’t see overwhelming bipartisan support for real Net Neutrality rules. They represent a small bubble, inhabited chiefly by Republican congressional leadership, the failed FCC chairman and their henchmen.

If this shrinking minority genuinely wanted to represent the people, they would follow their constituents’ good counsel and support the Save the Internet Act.

But they’ve dug in their heels. Not because opposing Net Neutrality is the right thing to do, but because they’re captive to a phone-and-cable lobby that’s invested hundreds of millions of dollars in convincing a handful of political gatekeepers to act against the country’s best interests.

Check it for yourself: Comparitech now has the numbers.

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