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Internet service providers spent $230M on lobbying, donations

Internet service providers and their trade associations spent more than $230 million on lobbying and political donations during the 116th Congress as they influenced legislation to expand broadband access, according to a report released Monday.

Left-leaning watchdog group Common Cause authored the report in partnership with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and cited data from OpenSecrets.org.

While the internet provider industry is powered by only a handful of companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, it typically outspends most industries on lobbying, including the real estate and tech industries. The leading telecom companies regularly rank among the top PAC donors. 

Internet providers have continued to influence the debate over internet expansion as President Biden pushes for a massive high-speed internet investment in the infrastructure bill.

The White House wants to bring broadband access to the one-fifth of U.S. households that currently don’t have access to high-speed internet.

Cable companies and telecoms have lobbied White House officials to scrap their plan to invest primarily in lightning-fast fiber-optic cable. They say the proposal wouldn’t efficiently bring service to rural areas, and those government subsidies should also go toward the expansion of telecoms’ 5G wireless service.

The industry is also fighting the plan’s provision to subsidize local governments’ efforts to expand broadband. Telecoms, which have successfully pushed some states to block municipalities from operating their own broadband networks, have argued that local governments cannot reliably provide internet to underserved communities. 

“To satisfy Wall Street, ISPs and trade associations are spending millions fighting legislation that would help close the digital divide,” said Shane Larson, CWA senior director for government affairs. “The impact this has on low-income communities and rural residents is devastating.”

Biden’s proposal is based on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, a bill introduced by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) last Congress that industry groups reported lobbying on.