Internet service providers in the United States have spent more than $1.2 billion on lobbying since 1998, and 2018 was the biggest year so far with a total spend of more than $80 million.

Comparitech researchers compiled and analyzed 51 ISPs‘ lobbying expenses from the US Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Act database, which dates back to 1998.

Here are the highlights of our analysis:

  • 2018 was the biggest year yet for ISP lobbying at $80 million.
  • Top spenders include AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, which have amassed lobbying expenses of $341 million, $265 million, and $200 million, respectively since 1998.
  • Since 2011, yearly spending on lobbying across all ISPs hasn’t strayed below $72 million.
  • The largest amount spent by any provider in any year was AT&T in 1999, at almost $23 million. AT&T’s acquisition of Ameritech Corp accounted for much of this, and the merger eventually led to the creation of America’s largest telecom company.
  • Total spend from 2016 to 2019 is set to exceed lobbying expenses between 2012 and 2015, which totaled $295 million.
  • Lobbying in favor of mergers and acquisitions accounted for many of the biggest expenses for individual ISPs in a single year.
  • $1.2 billion has been spent by ISPs on lobbying since 1998.

Top 25 ISP Lobbying Spenders in 2018

ISP2018 Lobbying Expenses
AT&T$15,820,000.00
Comcast$15,072,000.00
Verizon$10,489,000.00
Charter Communications$9,390,000.00
Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile USA - 2007)$8,105,000.00
Cox Enterprises$3,450,000.00
CenturyLink$3,360,000.00
Sprint Corporation$3,130,000.00
América Móvil$2,270,000.00
DISH Network$2,060,000.00
Ligado Networks$1,710,000.00
Viasat, Inc.$890,000.00
Frontier Communications$526,583.00
Granite Telecommunications$510,000.00
U.S. Cellular$500,000.00
Altice USA$400,000.00
Puerto Rico Telephone Company$360,000.00
General Communication, Inc (GCI)$320,000.00
Iridium Communications$210,000.00
Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico$200,000.00
ATN International$180,000.00
C Spire$120,000.00
Telephone and Data Systems, Inc (TDS)$110,477.00
Mediacom Communications$90,000.00
Level 3 Communications (Now CenturyLink)$85,000.00

What is ISP lobbying?

Lobbying expenses include any money used to influence local, state, or federal legislators and regulators. According to the IRS, that includes expenses incurred to participate or intervene in any political campaign for or against a candidate for public office. Attempts to influence the public about elections, legislative matters, and referendums also count as lobbying.

Much ado has been made about big telecom’s influence on politics, particularly when it comes to prominent issues like broadband privacy and net neutrality. Many politicians and their organizations receive campaign donations from telecoms. A separate study of contributions made in the last election cycle shows that despite big telecom giving to both sides of the aisle in the past, those contributions now almost always go to Republican candidates.

In exchange, telecoms have the ear of lawmakers and regulators at the local, state, and national levels. They lobby against smaller competitors. They lobby against online privacy laws in towns and states. They lobby the FCC for less industry regulation. They lobby financial regulators to push through mega mergers. And lobby groups even go to court for ISPs, in some cases suing states that try to enforce their own net neutrality rules.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Telecom Services spent $1.6 billion on lobbying since 1998. That includes companies other than the 51 in our list, hence the larger number. It’s the 12th biggest industry in America when it comes to lobbying expenses.

Top 5 ISP Lobbying Spenders

The ISPs that spent the most on lobbying since 1998 are all household names:

  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 (T-Mobile USA since 2007) = $69,617,598

Top 5 ISP Lobbying Spenders in 2018

These ISPs spent the most on lobbying last year:

  1. AT&T = $15.8 million
  2. Comcast = $15.1 million
  3. Verizon = $10.5 million
  4. Charter Communications = $9.4 million
  5. Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile USA) = $8.1 million

Top 5 ISP Lobbying Expenses in One Year

ISPs lobby the government for multiple reasons, but the big ticket items usually involve mergers and acquisitions.

  1. AT&T in 1999 = $22,960,000 (acquisition of Ameritech Corp)
  2. AT&T in 2006 = $22,405,497 (acquisition of BellSouth)
  3. Verizon in 1998 = $21,260,000 (trying to get approval from the FCC to offer long-distance services)
  4. AT&T in 2011 = $20,230,000 (attempted merger with T-Mobile)
  5. Comcast in 2011 = $19,260,000 (acquisition of NBC Universal)

Notes and limitations

Cable One, Rise Broadband, and Stealth Communications haven’t been included as no lobbying expenses were found.

Smaller organizations that submitted lobbying expenses, but were below the threshold, haven’t been included as the specific figures are not available.

Any reports submitted that are below the threshold and don’t have specific figures have been omitted. These are denoted in our data by “$0.00” to indicate the fact that there were lobbying expenses in this year by the company but we don’t have the exact figures.

ISPs and their subsidiaries

These are the ISPs and their subsidiaries included in our analysis:

Adak Eagle Enterprises LLC

Adak Telephone Utilities

Altice USA

Altice USA, Inc, Altice USA (CABLEVISION), Altice Group, Cablevision Systems Corporation (S.A)

América Móvil

Tracfone Wireless

American Broadband & Telecommunications

No subsidiaries.

AT&T

AT&T, Inc, BellSouth Corp, SBC Communications, Ameritech Corp, Southwestern Bell, Excite@Home, AT&T Broadband

NOT other subsidiaries that don’t relate to internet services.

ATN International

No subsidiaries.

Avantel S.A.

No subsidiaries.

Bluewater Wireless

No subsidiaries.

C Spire

Cellular South

CenturyLink

CenturyTel Service Group, Qwest Communications, Embarq Corp, CenturyTel, Inc.

Charter Communications

No subsidiaries.

Chickasaw Telephone

No subsidiaries.

Cincinnati Bell

No subsidiaries.

Comcast

Comcast Cable Communications

Some subsidiaries (i.e. NBCUniversal Media) not included as not relevant to ISPs.

Consolidated Communications

FairPoint Communications

Cordova Telephone Cooperative

No subsidiaries.

Cox Enterprises

Cox Communications/California

Cricket Wireless (Subsidiary of Leap Wireless)

2007 – 2012 for subsidiary Cricket Wireless, 1999 – 2006 for Leap Wireless

Cricket Wireless is a subsidiary of AT&T but not included in AT&T figures.

Deutsche Telekom / T-Mobile USA

From 2007 Deutsche Telekom has operated as T-Mobile USA. However, was also lobbying as its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, prior to this (back to 2000).

DISH Network

Echostar Communications.

Some subsidiaries not included (i.e. Echostar Satellite as it’s for TV/movies/music)

Farmers Telephone Cooperative

No subsidiaries.

Frontier Communications

Electric Lightwave

Known as Citizens Utilities until 2000 and Citizens Communications from 2000 to 2008.

General Communication, Inc (GCI)

No subsidiaries.

Gila River Telecommunications

No subsidiaries.

Granite Telecommunications

No subsidiaries.

HughesNet

Hughes Network Systems – subsidiary of Echostar Corp.

Some other subsidiaries not included as not relevant to ISPs.

Iridium Communications

Subsidiary, Aireon LLC, is related to air transport so omitted.

Level 3 Communications

Acquired by CenturyLink in 2017, completing in 2018.

WilTel Communications

Ligado Networks

Part of Harbinger Capital Partners. Previous name LightSquared, Inc.

Mediacom Communications

No subsidiaries.

Mescalero Apache Telecom, Inc.

No subsidiaries.

Nex-Tech

No subsidiaries.

NineStar Connect

No subsidiaries.

Pixius Communications

No subsidiaries.

RCN Corp

Bought by TPG Capital which may explain why no figures from 2010 onwards.

Silver Star Communications

No subsidiaries.

Smithville Communications

No subsidiaries.

Sprint Corporation

No subsidiaries.

Suddenlink Communications

Bought by Altice USA in 2016, hence no data from this date.

TDS

Inc. Parent – Telephone & Data Systems, Inc. (2008 and prior)

Totah Communications

No subsidiaries.

U.S. Cellular

Part of the above company but has separate lobbying expenses.

Verizon

Verizon Wireless, Verizon Business, GTE Corp, Bell Atlantic

ViaSat, Inc.

Up to and including 2010, the industry the company was lobbying was Defense Electronics so not included.

Windstream Communications

No subsidiaries.

WorldNet Telecommunications

No subsidiaries.