How Much Does Your Internet Service Provider Spend On Lobbying?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Paul Bischoff

Comcast Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Wikimedia/Smallbones.

When people think of lobbying, they often picture backroom deals made by big pharma executives. In reality, though, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are one of the largest lobbying groups in the US. With this in mind, we analyzed publicly-available data to see just how much money your ISP spends on influencing legislators and regulators every year.

Why do ISPs lobby?

ISPs might provide a valuable service but they are, first and foremost, businesses. As such, they tend to lobby against anything which could impact profits. This might mean opposing bills that stop the sale of customer data, for instance, or scrapping rules that make it easier for competitors to get up and running.

Of course, this cuts both ways; if there’s the potential to make more money via lobbying, ISPs will almost always try. If your ISP has been trying to push through a massive merger or looking to scrap industry regulation so it can charge you for an inferior service, you can bet huge amounts of money has changed hands to expedite the process.

Historically, the largest annual lobbying spends have related to mergers and acquisitions, as illustrated below:

  1. AT&T, 1999: Spent $22,960,000 acquiring Ameritech Corp
  2. AT&T, 2006: Spent $22,405,497 acquiring BellSouth
  3. Verizon, 1998: Spent $21,260,000 attempting to persuade the FCC to permit Verizon to provide long-distance services
  4. AT&T, 2011: Spent $20,230,000 on a failed merger with T-Mobile
  5. Comcast, 2011: Spent $19,260,000 acquiring NBC Universal

Where does the money go?

Previously, ISPs frequently lobbied both Democrats and Republican candidates, senators, and congressmen. However, the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that in recent years, telecom companies are increasingly targeting Republican representatives.

Which ISPs spend the most money on lobbying?

Since 1998, American ISPs have spent roughly $1.2 billion on lobbying, with the five biggest spenders accounting for almost a billion dollars combined:

  1. AT&T: $341,167,168
  2. Verizon: $264,973,043
  3. Comcast: $200,199,323
  4. Sprint Corporation: $80.759,621
  5. Deutsche Telekom (now T-Mobile USA): $69,617,598

Perhaps unsurprisingly, four of these companies also appear on the list of ISPs that spent the most on lobbying in 2018:

  1.  AT&T: $15,800,000
  2. Comcast: $15,100,000
  3. Verizon: $10,500,000
  4. Charter Communications: $9,400,000
  5. T-Mobile USA: $8,100,000

Most people don’t realize just how common lobbying is, or what it means for them. The figures above might illustrate the cut-throat nature of big business, but more importantly, they reveal just how much of an impact politics has on the services you use every day, and how much money household names are willing to pay in order to get what they want.

Paul Bischoff is a tech writer covering IT-related subjects since 2012. A digital nomad who depends on the internet to make a living, he’s always seeking out the best value and highest quality products and services on the web. He previously worked as the China editor at Tech in Asia and is a regular contributor at Mashable, as well as several blogs for internet startups around the world. You can find him on Twitter at @pabischoff.