Last Friday, two congressional committees held closed door discussions with 31 representatives from industry and activist groups to discuss writing a new broadband Internet policy, largely focused on whether and how to implement net neutrality rules, into the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While the meeting contained more proponents of net neutrality, opponents of implementing the policy hold a lop-sided advantage in lobbying spending and contributing to political campaigns.
In attendance were some of the major organizations on both sides of the debate. The biggest organizations in attendance in support of the legislation included Google, Microsoft, Amazon.com and two service providers breaking with their industry, DISH Network and Sprint. Opponents included AT&T, Verizon, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Communications Workers of America and the US Telecom Association. A number of public interest and consumer groups were also present.
According to data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics, net neutrality opponents represented at the meeting combined for $19.7 million in lobbying in the first quarter of 2010. Supporters, on the other hand, only combined for $4.7 million in first quarter lobbying expenses. (Organizations with undefined, or unidentifiable, positions combined for just under $1 million.)
The major campaign contributors opposed to net neutrality gave $6.9 million to political candidates from 2009-2010 while major contributors in support gave $2.2 million.
Both sides of the debate sent lobbyists with previous government experience into the closed-door meetings with the committees. Eight of the 31 organization representatives present at the meeting previously worked in Congress. Five of those eight previously worked for one of the two committees holding the meeting.
Lobbyists for net neutrality proponents had good connections to the lawmakers in the room. Google's Johanna Shelton previously worked on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce; Microsoft's Paula Boyd used to work for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation; Amazon.com sent lobbyist Emmett O'Keefe, a former staffer to Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation member Sen. Byron Dorgan.
Two organizations in opposition sent lobbyists with similarly good connections: National Cable & Telecommunications Association sent James Assey, a former staffer on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and US Telecom Association sent Walter McCormick, another former staffer from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The meetings, held jointly by the House Committee on Energy & Commerce and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, are the result of years of efforts by Congress to pass net neutrality legislation and recent developments involving the Federal Communications Commission's attempts to impose net neutrality rules the industry.
Net neutrality rules would disallow broadband service providers from discriminating against users and content by preventing them from slowing access to certain users and charging money to acesss certain content.
The FCC attempted to impose these rules after Comcast slowed service to certain users using the BitTorrent file-sharing service. In April, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the FCC, stating that they did not have the regulatory authority to stop Comcast from blocking or slowing certain users of their broadband service.
Broadband providers have largely opposed the implementation of net neutrality rules, while Internet companies have largely backed them.
The committees are scheduled to hold another talk this Friday. The list of organizations and their representatives, provided by Tech Daily Dose, can be found below:
AT&T, Tim McKone
Amazon, Emmett O'Keefe
CDT, David Sohn
Cisco, Jeff Campbell
CompTel, Jerry James
Consumers Union (CU), Joel Kelsey
CTIA, Jot Carpenter
CWA, Debbie Goldman
Dish, David Goodfriend
Free Press, Derek Turner
Free State Foundation, Randolph May
Google, Johanna Shelton
ITI, Dean Garfield
ITIF, Rob Atkinson
Level 3, John Ryan
MAP, Andy Schwartzman
Microsoft, Paula Boyd
NARUC, Brian O'Hara
NASUCA, Brenda Pennington
NCTA, James Assey
NTCA, Tom Wacker
OIC, Markham Erickson
PFF, Dan Horowitz
Phoenix Center, Larry Spiwak
Public Knowledge, Ernesto Falcon
Qwest, Melissa Newman
RCA, Tim Donovan
Sprint, Bill Barloon
TIA, Grant Seiffert
US Telecom, Walter McCormick
Verizon, Peter Davidson