By Russ Choma
February 27, 2015
Net Neutrality Fast Facts
The Federal Communications Commission just approved new rules that allow it to regulate the Internet like a utility, establishing net neutrality. But only for now. The move has some very powerful opponents, starting with the cable and telecom companies — companies that control most of the Internet infrastructure, seem likely to take the issue to court, and have many friends in Congress.
In recent days and weeks the primary opposition in Congress to a move to establish net neutrality was led by Republicans, who do indeed get a lot of support from the big telecoms and cable companies — but it’s by no means a partisan issue. Many Democrats also have close ties to these companies.
We’ve compiled some fast facts below on the influence wielded in Washington by the four biggest opponents of net neutrality and just who their friends are:
Comcast: Comcast, the cable, Internet and content giant, is one of Washington’s most powerful influence-wielders; if the net neutrality fight is brought to Congress again (yesterday, Republican leaders conceded they wouldn’t be able to get legislation through before the FCC vote), Comcast will have the ear of many lawmakers.
For starters, at least 37 members of Congress owned shares in Comcast in 2013, and in the 2014 cycle 373 House members (out of 435 total) and 45 senators were recipients of campaign donations from either the Comcast corporate PAC or employees of Comcast. With Comcast’s sprawling empire of subsidiaries, for example NBC and Universal Studios, not all of that money was necessarily directed by people with a direct interest in the net neutrality issue, but it’s hard to ignore the size of Comcast’s campaign cash largesse: House members who took money from Comcast donors, received, on average, $5,248; Senate members received, on average, $16,247.
In the Senate, Democrats received, on average, more than Republicans and in the House, members of both parties received very similar amounts. But far and away the biggest recipient of Comcast money in the 2014 cycle was a pivotal figure — Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), who received more than $107,000 from Comcast donors. In the Senate, the No. 1 recipient of Comcast cash was Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who received $53,900.
Comcast was also the eighth biggest spender on federal lobbying in 2014, so not only does it have the cash to catch the attention of lawmakers, it has a small army of lobbyists to deliver the donations and the company’s message. To be more precise, Comcast has 128 federal lobbyists on payroll, 105 of whom have gone through the revolving door. That includes six former members of Congress who have now become lobbyists.
Verizon: Telephone and cable company Verizon has also strongly opposed a move towards net neutrality, and while it doesn’t carry quite the heft of Comcast (it doesn’t own a TV network, for instance), it is still another of Washington’s most powerful outside forces. At least 50 members of Congress owned some shares in Verizon in 2013, making it the 10th most popular investment for lawmakers. And Verizon gave more than $2.2 million to congressional candidates in the 2014 cycle. Like Comcast, the company’s PAC and employees favored Republicans with their donations, but left few members of Congress without at least a token gift.
In total, 335 House members and 61 senators took campaign cash from Verizon donors, with House members averaging about $4,800 apiece and senators just over $6,600.
Verizon’s lobbying corps is significant, though it did not make the list of top 20 biggest spenders in 2014 — the company only spent $13.2 million, missing being on the roster by just $200,000. Still, the company fielded a force of 110 lobbyists, including 89 who had spun through the revolving door and four former members of Congress.
AT&T: AT&T, originally a near-monopoly of a phone company, has transitioned into being a major player in the broadband world and a vocal opponent of net neutrality. Comcast and Verizon may be popular investments for members of Congress, but AT&T is even more of a congressional blue chip — 52 members of Congress owned shares in 2013.
When it comes to spending, AT&T’s PAC and employees gave more than $2.8 million to congressional candidates in 2014. Again, AT&T donors favored Republicans, but donated to 402 members of the House — that’s 92 percent of House members — and 73 members of the Senate. The average donation to a House recipient was $5,730 and for the Senate the figure was $4,791.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association: The NCTA is the major trade group representing companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, and consequently is a powerful force in Washington in its own right. The association has few employees, but its PAC is active — it gave congressional candidates more than $1.7 million in 2014. While it didn’t have the quite the reach of the three big telecom companies, it still managed to make donations to 246 members of the House (with an average donation of $5,370) and 37 members of the Senate (average donation $8,945).
The NCTA’s big strength, however, is lobbying. It ranked seventh on the list of biggest spenders on lobbying, with $17.4 million. The association’s own lobbying force is 94 people strong — 76 revolving door veterans and four former members of Congress.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler once headed this group, which finds less to like about him lately.