An NTCA member shared with me this morning a story highlighting the “supersize” influence that edge providers such as Google have had on this current Administration. The article noted that Google’s top lobbyist in D.C. has visited the White House 128 times through 2015. I think we’ve made tremendous progress with the White House and have had a number of visits, but our visits still can be counted on two hands—maybe 3. The trade press has also recently documented that 28 folks have gone back and forth from Google to the White House or vice versa. That’s a tight relationship and one that’s hard to combat on merit alone since I do think NTCA member rural broadband providers have the most compelling story and certainly employ a lot more citizens across a greater number of states. Likely, my favorite part of these press reports are that the statistics were calculated through the Google Transparency Project, part of the Campaign for Accountability to document who was traipsing in and out of the White House and other agencies. In 2015, Google spent $16.6 million on lobbying, surpassing for the first-time industry giants such as AT&T at $16.4 million and Comcast at 15.7 million. More than NTCA—by a lot!
This influence has really hit home with some of the recent policy proposals on topics like set-top boxes, promoted by Google, as well as the FCC’s privacy proceedings. NTCA certainly supports efforts to ensure broadband consumer privacy. This includes maintaining secure networks and protocols that protect user information, consistent with fair and reasonable market expectations and practices.
However, NTCA observes that many content owners and other “edge providers” have as much or even greater access, ability and incentive to maintain and utilize consumer data. Under certain of the FCC’s proposals, however, firms such as Google and Facebook would be permitted to waltz through the vineyards of data, selecting the choicest fruits at will, while NTCA members and other BIAS providers would face the Commission’s proverbial grapes of wrath! (Full credit for the poetic description of the contrast goes to Josh Seidemann, who feels passionately about unjust and out of balance policy directives!)
Sometimes D.C. can almost feel like high school, and it’s easy to be reminded how the “cool kids” got all of the advantages, but then there’s the glory of the first high-school reunion when merit, capability and other compelling factors level the playing field. Let’s hope that can happen on the policy front as well.