Dialing For Dollars? SBC Leads the Way in Political Pump Priming


When it comes to lobbying and political palavering, no one takes a
back seat to America's telephone and cable companies, with SBC setting
the pace for its rivals.
Telecom companies spent $56.8 million on political contributions over
six years and a minimum of $77.8 million on lobbying over two years in
an attempt to curry favor with elected officials in the states,
according to a new Center for Public Integrity report.
Large regional telephone companies and cable television operators
are spending millions in the hope that legislative success at the state
level will translate into similar success in Washington, D.C., as
Congress debates a major rewrite of federal telecommunications laws this
autumn.
The leading source of political froth in the states is San Antonio-
based SBC Communications, the most aggressive of the dwindling family
of "Baby Bell" companies. Now grown into a hulking bruiser, SBC spent
$16 million lobbying state governments from 2003-2004 and another $10
million in political contributions from 1999 to 2004.
For awhile there, it looked like SBC and its surviving siblings
(the Bell progeny having been somewhat thinned by an unfortunate
outbreak of cannablism) -- BellSouth, Verizon and Qwest -- would have
the political landscape all to themselves following AT&T and MCI's
descent into irrelevance.
But just when the world looked Bell-safe, the long-slumbering cable
television industry lumbered to its feet and began filling the
slush-money niche abandoned by the fast-fading long-distance elders.
Comcast, Cox and other cable biggies have been moving rapidly onto the
Bells' turf, providing telephone and Internet service, and this has
necessitated their also moving into the political realm.
What are the Bells and cable goliaths chasing with all that money?
The Bells' primary goal is elimination of state regulation over
local phone rates, using the hardly novel argument that less regulation
will mean more competition and lower prices. Never mind that the Bells
have successfully cut off at the knees most of the upstart local
competitors by convincing the FCC to deregulate the wholesale rates the
Bells charge the new entrants.
The cable companies, in a nutshell, want whatever it is the Bells
don't want.
The report is the first attempt by the Center to track the influence
of a single industry in all 50 states, it said.
The report described the lobbying total as a conservative tally, since
poor disclosure laws in nearly half the states make it difficult to
get a true picture of all industry spending. Despite the limitations,
the survey provides a snapshot of which companies in the telecommuni-
cations business are most active in statehouses across the nation.
The contribution data, provided by the Institute on Money in State
Politics and analyzed by Center researchers, reflects donations made
to candidates for state office and to state party organizations. It
does not include contributions made to federal candidates or national
political parties. The lobbying data was compiled by Center staffers
and includes spending by traditional telecommunications companies,
such as AT&T and SBC, as well as wireless providers, cable television
system operators and industry trade associations.
The contribution data includes donations made by traditional carriers,
telecommunications services and equipment companies.
SBC spokesman Dave Pacholczyk provided the Center with a written
statement in response to their findings.
"Telecom is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the
country, requiring us to participate in the legislative process more
than most businesses," it reads. "Decisions made by government can have
a significant impact on our ability to serve our customers, so we have
to make sure policymakers are educated and informed on our issues," he
said.
The Center's Website provides state-by-state information on
contributions and lobbying expenses.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan,
tax-exempt organization that conducts investigative research and
reporting on public policy issues in the United States and around the
world.
Copyright 2003-2005 ConsumerAffairs.Com Inc.
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