Small payoffs from big cable, telcos buy support from non profits and politicians in Sacramento and D.C.

31 July 2020 by Steve Blum
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Need a beer

Petty cash can be as effective in buying political support as megabuck payments to elected officials and political parties. The latest example is unfolding in Washington, D.C., where Charter Communications is asking the Federal Communications Commission for permission to 1. enforce data caps on its customers and 2. start charging video competitors for access to those customers two years before the expiration of conditions imposed when it acquired Time Warner cable systems.

It’s the same story with assembly bill 570, which would lock Californians into slow broadband for a generation while shovelling taxpayer money to Frontier Communications and cable companies for minimal upgrades. Non profits are being actively recruited to sign on as supporters.

Some of the pay offs are in the tens of thousands of dollars range, but even a couple hundred bucks is enough to buy a letter of support. Whenever AT&T or companies – Charter and Comcast, particularly – want something from California lawmakers, they supplement their direct payments with testimony from a parade of non-profit organisations that have no discernible expertise or engagement with telecommunications policy.

As well told in an article in Ars Technica by Jon Brodkin, non profit organisations and politicians take Charter’s money and return the favor by arguing Charter’s case for early release from its FCC obligations…

Alongside the angry users of Spectrum Internet service are a number of politicians and charities urging the FCC to grant the petition. Charter has donated to these nonprofits and politicians, and it has apparently made a big outreach effort to get their public support for the petition. Many of the letters to the FCC echo Charter’s argument that it shouldn’t be treated differently from other Internet providers that don’t face such conditions—even though Charter willingly agreed to them in order to secure approval for a merger that made it the second-largest ISP in the United States after Comcast. The letters from nonprofits and politicians ignore the negative impact data caps would have on broadband customers.

The letters continue a years-long trend in which ISPs have been donating to charities and receiving their support in lobbying campaigns to complete mergers and eliminate consumer-protection regulations.

Reply comments on Charter’s FCC petition are due next Thursday. AB 570 comes up for a hearing the California senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee on Monday. A competing broadband bill, senate bill 1130, which would raise California’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps speeds, is also queued up for a hearing on Monday, in the assembly’s communications and conveyances committee.

I assisted the City of Gonzales with its efforts at the CPUC during the Time Warner Cable acquisition review, and its negotiations with Charter. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.