Tech Lobby Doesn't Lack for Cash or Issues

Regulations and privacy will keep tech and telecom lobbyists busy after the FCC's net-neutrality vote Thursday—and the Internet regulation debate isn't going away, either.

Tech and telecom companies have spent more than $3.3 billion on lobbying over the past decade. (National Journal)

Tech and telecom companies have spent more than $3.3 billion on lobbying over the past decade. And they're just getting started.

Net neutrality has recently consumed the interest of companies that would be affected by Internet regulations. But even after the Federal Communications Commission votes Thursday to implement a plan that would regulate broadband Internet as a utility, they will continue to spend big.

The tech industry's next major lobbying fight will likely be over privacy, says Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. That includes questions of whether the police can trace mobile phones or ask an email provider for a customer's emails, as well as a debate about the extent of the National Security Agency's surveillance.

"At some point, am I less likely to share something with Facebook—which Facebook needs to make money off of me—if I also think it goes straight to the NSA?" Allison asked. "A lot of these companies are going to be reviewing their relationships with the national security [apparatus]."

Meanwhile, telecom companies and groups will focus on updating the Communications Act, which governs how telecommunications are regulated, and on pushing the government to free up more unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi, said Brian Dietz, vice president for communications at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

But the routine issues that come up for almost every industry—taxes, health care, intellectual property—will continue to draw millions in lobbying cash. In 2014 alone, tech and telecom companies and groups spent almost $350 million on lobbying, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

And net neutrality isn't going away after Thursday's FCC vote. The action will likely move to the courts in the short term, as companies prepare to challenge the regulations, but the political debate will continue to matter.

"We expect that net neutrality will continue to be a significant issue for the next couple of years," says Dietz. The legal challenges that will likely come out of the FCC's decision "will continue to make this a prominent issue."

"It could be an ongoing fight," says Allison. "And if that's the case, everyone and his brother is hiring lobbyists and spending money."

The changing policy debates have also mirrored the changing cast of players. Some of the large spenders in the tech and telecom industries have remained relatively constant—many of them are large, established trade associations like the NCTA—but newcomers like Facebook and Google have ramped up their spending dramatically to compete.

Between 2010 and 2014, Google's lobby spending tripled, from just over $5 million to almost $17 million. During that time, it went from the 15th largest lobby spender in the tech and telecom industry to the fourth largest.

Facebook's lobby spending has risen even more swiftly. In 2010, Facebook spent $350 thousand and didn't even make the list of the 100 top industry lobby spenders. In 2014, it spent more than $9 million and was the eighth-biggest spender in the industry.