House Panel Members Considering Net Neutrality Repeal Got 3 Times More Donations From ISPs

Frank Bass | August 28, 2017

This story was produced by MapLight in partnership with Fast Company.

Four major internet service providers that support a Trump administration plan to eliminate net neutrality rules have outspent online giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google by a 3-to-1 margin when it comes to contributing money to members of a key House panel, according to a MapLight analysis.

The companies -- Comcast Corp., AT&T, Verizon and Charter Communications -- have contributed $1.9 million to the 55 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee since 2015. More than $1.2 million has gone to Republican lawmakers, who have scheduled a Sept. 7 hearing to consider legislative options for repealing Obama-era regulations that require internet companies to treat all content equally.

The issue also continues to simmer at regulatory agencies. The Federal Communications Commission announced last week that it will give Americans more time to weigh in on a regulatory proposal that would essentially eliminate net neutrality. The comment period, originally set to expire Wednesday, was extended to Aug. 30 after drawing more than 20 million responses.

The Trump administration’s push to eliminate net neutrality rules marks the second major policy shift with the potential to significantly erode online consumer rights. President Donald Trump signed legislation in April allowing internet providers to sell customers’ private browser histories, despite a March HuffPost/YouGov poll showing that 83 percent of adults considered it to be a bad idea.

Support for rolling back net neutrality rules isn’t much more popular. Sixty percent of registered voters said in a Morning Consult/Politico poll that the FCC shouldn’t allow internet providers to “block, throttle or prioritize certain content on the internet.” The FCC proposal is generally favored by large internet service providers and opposed by major content companies such as Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon and Netflix. Internet content providers worry that phone and cable internet providers could discriminate against them by charging extra for their services or slowing speeds to their websites.

First-Time Testimony?

The Sept. 7 hearing is expected to draw even more attention to the net neutrality issue since it’s possible that it will mark the first time that the chief executives of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Netflix testify before Congress. Even though the four content providers have more than twice the combined market capitalization of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter, they’ve only spent about $570,000 wooing panel members since the beginning of 2015.

When it comes to campaign contributions to committee members, the four major content providers supporting net neutrality have focused on boosting local politicians. Since early 2015, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Palo Alto Democrat, has been the biggest beneficiary of contributions from Facebook and Google. Eshoo has received $19,100 from Menlo Park-based Facebook and $26,000 from Google, based in Mountain View. Amazon, headquartered in Seattle, has given $15,500 to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Spokane Republican who described the Obama-era net neutrality rules as a “heavy-handed approach.” Netflix hasn’t made any contributions to committee members since 2015, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who leads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, collected more contributions from companies whose representatives have been invited to the Sept. 7 hearing than any other panel member. Walden has received $125,300 from the eight companies, including $49,600 from Comcast Corp., which has given $586,850 to panel members since the beginning of 2015.

Rep. Frank Pallone, the ranking Democrat on the panel, reported receiving $72,300 from the eight companies during the same period. Like Walden, the biggest chunk of contributions to Pallone by the eight companies came from Comcast, which gave $23,900 to his campaign fund. The New Jersey legislator said the rollback of net neutrality rules will “undermine the free and open internet, and hand its control over to a few powerful corporate interests.”