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AT&T, carriers fund democratic reps against net neutrality

All but two of the 72 Democratic lawmakers who cautioned last Friday against open-Internet rules have received campaign donations this year from Internet service providers, the companies most likely to be impacted by new regulations.

For their most recent election campaigns, the House members received a total of more than $405,000 from the nation's largest carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and the trade associations representing them, according to a Post analysis of data on AT&T gave the most: about $180,000 to 52 of the 72 Democratic lawmakers. The company has historically been the biggest donor to Congressional campaigns of any company.

When asked if AT&T directly contacted the lawmakers about their concern over Internet access rules and asked them to send letters to the FCC, spokesman Michael Balmoris sent the following statement by e-mail: "There clearly is a lot of concern about the direction the FCC appears to be headed and it is no different than any of the hundreds sent over the last several weeks expressing those concerns."

Verizon and Comcast each made total donations of about $73,000 to various Representatives on the letter. Both companies have said they don't believe the FCC needs extra net neutrality rules.

The Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski last Friday, criticizing a proposal to strengthen and broaden rules that would stop ISPs from blocking legal content and services on the Web. The letter follows similar criticism in recent weeks by Republican senators, Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Democratic and Republican governors and state representatives against net neutrality rules.

"In light of the growth and innovation in new applications that the current regime has enabled, as compared to the limited evidence demonstrating any tangible harm, we would urge you to avoid tentative conclusions which favor government regulation," the Democratic House lawmakers wrote to Genachowski last Friday.

To be sure, the Internet service providers have also donated broadly across Congress. Proponents of net neutrality rules have also received donations. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who has introduced legislation to prevent carriers from blocking content on their networks, received $1,000 from wireless trade group CTIA and $8,000 from Time Warner in his last campaign.

Ben Scott, head of policy for public interest group, Free Press, says pro-net neutrality members like Markey and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) routinely take money from carriers but won't budge on the topic, which they have jurisdiction over as members of the committees that oversee telecommunications policy. They also have a longer lists of donors than others in Congress and accept money broadly.

What was curious about the 72 Democratic members who signed onto the letter last week is that several are freshmen members of the House of Representatives who have never previously weighed in on the issue, Scott said.

"This is a safe issue for them because they don't have to take a position on it for public record but can can still get money for their campaigns by weighing in on it," Scott said. "They are all people who need to get reelected and where small amounts of money make a big difference."

Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) received $2,000 from AT&T and $2,000 from Comcast for his first election last year. He doesn't serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee so wouldn't directly have jurisdiction over net neutrality.

More veteran but with no authority over telecom legislation, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) received $5,000 from AT&T and $1,000 from Verizion in 2009.

Yet on the letter were some lawmakers with direct impact. Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also a member of the Blue Dog group, received a total of $21,000 from major carriers, including $10,000 from Comcast and $4,000 from AT&T. Comcast has said new rules aren't necessary at the FCC and AT&T has pushed strongly against new rules for wireless networks.

Criticism has intensified against Genachowski's proposal, which is up for vote next week. The vote, expected to pass, will begin a months-long process of rule-making before a final policy is formed. Democratic governors and Republican senators have also sent letters to Genachowski to protest the rules. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Members Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex) urged against new rules, saying regulations could hamper investments in Internet networks and hurt the economy. She received $12,000 this year from AT&T for her relection campaign and has taken a total $67,000 from AT&T since her first election in 1989. AT&T is her highest individual donor historically.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 19, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
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Next: Vint Cerf, early Web technologists show support for net neutrality


Wonderful, is it not ? US legislation regarding a principle so important (to end users of net services) as net neutrality will be determined, not according to the needs of these users, but according to whether carriers, on the one hand, or internet firms, on the other, prove to have the deeper pockets when it comes to financing the election campaigns of US congressmen. The best government money can buy ?...


Posted by: mhenriday | October 19, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Henri hits the nail on the head.

There is a chance that if enough voters (you know, the little people) care about this issue, the deep pockets of the ISPs will matter less to our esteemed representatives than the prospect of getting booted from office.

But it takes an awful lot of little people to be noticed by one of our public servants. Chances are this legislation, like nearly all legislation, will go to the highest bidder. Go Google and Facebook. Smash AT&T. Yay... :-/

Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 19, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Note that Cecilia Kang, whose reporting -- in violation of proper journalistic ethics -- is biased in favor of Google and "network neutrality" regulation, fails to note the Google has been devoting far more money to lobbying FOR that regulation. In fact, it's now participating in the traditional inside-the-Beltway "revolving door' game. Google has just hired Frannie Wellings, who worked at Free Press (which lobbies heavily for Google's corporate "network neutrality" agenda) and then infiltrated the office of Senator Byron Dorgan to use the Senator's influence and seniority to push "network neutrality" legislation. Obviously, this is payback for her work for the company in both places.

But the article above doesn't mention this; instead, it takes potshots at AT&T and Comcast and never mentions Google's much more lavish spending on lobbying and "astroturf" in DC. It is deeply disturbing to me that the Post would allow a reporter to essentially lobby in the paper instead of reporting the news fairly -- especially when the agenda for which she is lobbying would harm the public, raise broadband prices, and put the breaks on innovation and broadband deployment.

Brett Glass
Owner and Founder, LARIAT
The world's first wireless ISP (WISP)

Posted by: squirma | October 19, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

So, Brett Glass, Owner and Founder etc ... we get your disappointment at the failure of the author to mention all the other evil players in the bidding for congress.

But you still don't address the fundamental issue at question here. This is very like At&t and Comcast - divert attention away from their evil by making sure to spin the interests of others as equally evil.

Instead of spending all their money on lawyers and congressmen/women and marketing and MANAGEMENT pukes, why not invest that money in infrastructure, you know - fiber. Why not out-perform the competition instead of suing them or hiring government stooges to pass laws that benefit the shareholder at the expense of the consumer.

Why not? Because all you manager pukes are market droids at heart. The return on investment for lawyers is easier for you to understand, easier to see.

Look up quantum bogodynamics. Here, let me google that for you

Your only real complaint with google is that they have outspent you.

Posted by: katavo | October 19, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

ISPs operate on a low-usage model in order to make any money. Their excuse is that the costs of dedicating bandwidth as advertised for each person would almost triple their costs...

It has been shown that just like the Financial Giants, these ISPs are also playing numbers games as witnessed by the private corporate jets, cars and entire arms of Lobbyists making millions a Year...

To think that they represent the best interest of the consumer in these matters is not only a bad joke, but an insult to most peoples intelligence.

Personally I think everyone needs to do without their corporate perks and 10,000 dollar suits and get back to learning how to spend money wisely....

Posted by: ProveMeWrong | October 19, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

squirma is right on. Google is one of the biggest spenders in town, and its lobbyists are pretty brazen about it.

I am not sure where economists stand on net neutrality, but it is theoretically is a retarded idea. Forcing ISPs to take a marketable commodity (access to their networks) and provide it for free. Consumers end up subsidizing Google's (market cap: $175 BILLION) ubiquity on the internet. Are you f'ing kidding?

I know it's stretch, but stop being idiots, people.

Posted by: Wallenstein | October 19, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

@Katavo: "Management pukes?" "Market droids?" Gee, you seem to have nothing but scorn for anyone who actually operates a business. Sorry to burst your bubble, guy, but as a small businessman I manage, market, AND pull the fiber.

@ProveMeWrong: Gee, if I have one of those corporate jets or suits as expensive as a car I sure don't know about it.

Posted by: squirma | October 19, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Wallenstein, you appear to misunderstand the principle. Net neutrality does not involve ANYONE giving anything away for free.

What it involves is charging the people who initiate the bandwidth use with the costs of that bandwidth.

Content providers are everyone with a web site - small business, fun site, you name it. The CONSUMER controls how much is downloaded/retrieved/used from them - the providers do not control that process.

The wealth of freely available free sites on the Internet is based on that principle - that the end user pays for the bandwidth. Otherwise universities, the Gutenberg project, the MIT free courseware project - none of them could afford to freely give away that treasure trove of cultural and educational value.

Video downloads are 40-50% of Internet usage and growing rapidly. Who controls how many movies you download from Netflix? You do. Not Netflix.

Either way, the consumer is going to be the one paying for it - this way the person in control also controls usage - so 10Gb of Netflix downloads are not more expensive than 10Gb of free downloads.

Posted by: VirginiaGal2 | October 20, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

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