In April 2018 the two telecom companies announced a $26.5 billion combination. The deal would combine the nation’s third- and fourth-largest wireless companies and bulk them up to a similar size to Verizon and AT&T, the industry giants.
From 1998 to 2018, telecommunications and cable companies including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter and others have dumped more than $1.2 billion into the pockets of Congress in attempts to win favor with lawmakers. Figures compiled by Comparitech found that America’s largest phone and internet providers show that** recent years have only seen lobbying costs increase**. 2018 was the highest individual year for telecom lobbying, with $80 million being spent by ISPs—and it’s only expected to continue increasing.
Many telecom companies kick up their lobbying efforts when they are about to face additional scrutiny from lawmakers.
- AT&T racked up $23 million in lobbying charges in 1999— the most the company has ever spent in a single year—when it was readying itself to make an $81 billion acquisition of major competitor Ameritech.
- Likewise, Comcast spent more than $19 million to curry favor in 2011 when it decided to acquire NBC Universal.
- T-Mobile parent company has spent more than $8 million in each of the last three years as it cozies up to legislators ahead of its attempts to acquire Sprint and consolidate two of the four largest mobile carriers in the country.
Over the last two decades, the telecom industry has seen a significant amount of consolidation. They have also come under additional scrutiny, especially as it relates to privacy and control over the internet. Since the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration introduced and passed the Open Internet Order in 2010 in an effort to establish and protect net neutrality, lobbying from internet service providers has spiked.
While telecom companies gave to both parties in nearly equal measures throughout the last decade, they have found considerably more support from Republican politicians. The Trump administration’s FCC has since overturned the rules that protected net neutrality — a concept that prevented ISPs from blocking, censoring or slowing the flow of data online. Telecom giants also scored a victory when lawmakers voted to reverse an FCC rule that prevented ISPs from selling consumer data without explicit permission. That vote took place primarily on party lines, and every representative that voted in favor of the measure was a Republican.
Given the recent successes telecom companies have had, it seems likely they will continue to spend large chunks of their cash on lobbying. As states begin to launch their own efforts to pass and enforce internet privacy laws, ISPs may start dumping more money into state and local elections. It also seems likely that major battles will continue to take place at the federal level, resulting in even more spending. Comparitech found that spending from 2016 to 2019 is expected to exceed lobbying expenses from 2012 to 2015, which totaled $295 million