Google spent nearly as much as AT&T and Comcast on lobbying in Q4 2011, according to quarterly federal lobbying reports available last Friday. Facebook and Netflix also accelerated their Washington spending as debate over online copyright issues intensified in the fourth quarter. Spectrum legislation, the recently dissolved AT&T/T-Mobile transaction and controversy over possible LightSquared GPS interference also drove communications industry lobbying in the fourth quarter, the disclosure reports showed.
In Q4, Google spent nearly $3.8 million on lobbying. The Internet search company spent just a third of that in the same quarter last year ($1.3 million). The figure was also up 58 percent from Q3 2011. By comparison, AT&T spent $4.2 million in Q4 2011 and Comcast NBCUniversal spent $4.5 million. Google competitor Yahoo spent $630,000 on lobbying in Q4 2011. In the fourth quarter, Google defended itself on Capitol Hill against antitrust accusations and fought heavily against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Over the entire year, Google spent $9.7 million on lobbying, 87 percent more than in 2010.
Lobbying by Google and other popular websites has seen a steady rise. Facebook spent $440,000 in Q4 2011. That's low compared to Google, but more than three times what the social network spent in the same quarter last year. Netflix spent $175,000 in Q4 2011, more than double what it spent in the same quarter last year. The Facebook increase "represents a continuation of our efforts to explain how our service works as well as the important actions we take to protect people who use our service and promote the value of innovation to our economy," a Facebook spokesman said.
Consumer Watchdog condemned the increased lobbying by web services. Google "has abandoned its idealistic 'Don't Be Evil' roots and has bought into Washington's corrupt 'cash and carry' political system," the consumer group said. "Facebook, relatively new to the Washington lobbying scene, now appears headed down the same morally bankrupt path as Google," Consumer Watchdog said. Facebook declined to respond. Google didn't answer a request for comment.
AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel lobbying spending was up compared to the same quarter last year. In the recent quarter, the companies were lobbying on the now-dead AT&T/T-Mobile transaction during the quarter. AT&T spent 46 percent more in Q4 2011 than it did in the same quarter last year, but its spending was consistent with Q3 2011. T-Mobile spent $1.5 million, 15 percent more year-over year and 36 percent more quarter-over-quarter. Sprint Nextel spent $774,000, 31 percent more year-over-year but 25 percent less quarter-over-quarter. Sprint's spending reflects the carrier's lobbying against the AT&T/T-Mobile deal, a spokesman said. Verizon, which kept out of that merger fight, spent $3.2 million in the quarter, 15 percent less than Q4 2010 and even with Q3 2011.
With talks over spectrum legislation ramping up, CEA and CTIA showed increases in spending compared to the same quarter last year. CTIA increased spending by 17 percent year-over-year to $3.3 million, but the figure was even with the third quarter last year. CEA more than doubled its spending year-over-year to $840,000 in Q4 2011. But it was only 11 percent more than Q3 2011. CEA lobbying focused on spectrum, SOPA/PIPA, environmental issues and free trade agreements, said Jason Oxman, CEA senior vice president.
Other heavy-hitting associations reported less volatile changes. NCTA spent $5.5 million in Q4 2011, 7 percent less than the same quarter last year. NAB spent $3.6 million in Q4 2011, slightly more than the same quarter last year. USTelecom spending dipped 12 percent year-over-year to $2 million in the most recent quarter
LightSquared lobbying costs continued to balloon, the filings show. The company, which continues to push the FCC to allow it to begin terrestrial wireless service, spent $930,000 on lobbying in Q4, up 27 percent from Q4. LightSquared spent only $140,000 in Q4 a year ago. Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates again took home the largest chunk, with $160,000 from LightSquared. While the filings don't specify what issues received the most attention, it's likely the company largely lobbied on getting government approval for its network.
Lobbying costs from GPS interests have also seen a boost. Trimble, which has been a major opponent to LightSquared's planned service, spent $410,00 in Q4, up 5 percent from Q3 and up 372 percent from Q4 last year. Deere spent $420,000 in the quarter, up nine percent from Q3, but down from $510,000 in Q4 last year.