Victories of People-Powered Lobbying

It’s easy to feel overpowered when you go up against the big guys. But with power in numbers and the facts on your side, it is possible for the little guys to win out over the big ones. Wednesday morning was one of those moments.

The Department of Justice filed suit early Wednesday to block the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile — a huge victory for the public interest. Despite the army of lobbyists that AT&T employs, the arguments against this merger and the facts to support them won out. The voices of everyday people who reject the combination of higher prices and fewer choices in the wireless market have come one step closer to victory.

A moment like this proves that the lobbying power of a giant corporation doesn’t always carry a very bad idea to victory. Instead of listening to the lies of industry lobbyists and backing a deal that hurts the public interest, the DoJ listened to the people. And the people have been speaking out loud and clear against this merger from day one. They’ve sent petitions to the FCC and Congress. They’ve called on 76 representatives who signed letters supporting the merger despite widespread public opposition to it. And some have even become lobbyists on this issue themselves.

Lobbying by and for the People

Over the last two weeks, more than 80 Free Press activists from across the country have met with members of Congress and their staff to provide the public’s perspective on a range of media issues — including the AT&T–T-Mobile merger. In these visits policymakers heard not from lobbyists and lawyers but from people who are impacted by the decisions made in Washington.

Each year in August, no matter how crazy things have gotten in D.C. (remember the debt-ceiling debate?), members of Congress spend the month in their home districts. It is a time for them to meet with their constituents. From Atlanta, Ga. to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Hartford, Conn. to Tucson, Ariz., people who believe that media issues are too important to the health and future of our communities to be left exclusively to closed-door discussions between lobbyists and elected officials visited their representatives to share their opinions.

The AT&T merger would have disastrous consequences — especially in places like the district of Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), home to T-Mobile and many of the employees who could lose their jobs as a result of the merger. While AT&T wants you to believe this deal would be good for jobs, innovation and the economy — and claims it would save you hundreds of dollars on your mobile bill —this merger would give just two companies, AT&T and Verizon, control of nearly 80 percent of the mobile market in America. With too few choices, mobile phone users would face higher prices and poorer service. And with only two companies running the whole show, there would be a less competitive marketplace, resulting in fewer innovations. With the DoJ’s decision, we are one step closer to preserving these jobs in Rep. Reichert’s district.


Seattle: Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) meets with Free Press activists and media makers. Free Press Government and External Affairs Manager Chance Williams is pictured on the left.


Atlanta: Free Press activist Dwight Anderson, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Free Press activist Jesse Scherer and Joe Torres, Free Press senior adviser for government and external affairs

Free Press activists also met with members of Congress on other media issues. Here’s a look at the issues they found so important that they were moved to give Congress an earful in person:

Saving Net Neutrality, Saving the Internet

A vote on the Federal Communications Commission‘s Net Neutrality rules could come up in the Senate as early as next week. This so-called “resolution of disapproval” would strip the FCC, the agency charged with protecting the public from abuse by media companies, of its authority to protect free speech online. And it would allow service providers like Comcast and Verizon to serve as Internet gatekeepers. Activists in cities across the country — like these pictured below in Raleigh, N.C. — met with their senators to ask them to vote against the resolution.


Raleigh: Saving the Internet at the office of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)

Defending, Not Defunding, Public Media

This year a small but vocal group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives proposed no fewer than six bills to defund public broadcasting — and in March passed a bill to defund NPR. While public outcry stopped those cuts, there are still a number of bills in the House that could dismantle public media as we know it in this country. And with Congress coming back in session next week and continuing to debate the budget, there’s no doubt that this issue will come up again. Free Press activists and allies voiced their concerns to Democrats and Republicans alike about how critical preserving public media funding really is for their communities.


Chicago: The staff of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) meets with constituents to discuss public media.

Covert Consolidation

Commercial broadcasters have found a clever way of circumventing media-ownership laws — the rules that prevent one company from owning all the local media in your community and thereby controlling the debate on important public issues. By consolidating newsroom operations between once-competing local news operations, broadcasters are cutting corners and gutting their reporting staff in the process. And if that’s not bad enough, these sneaky tactics are really difficult to track. But this June Free Press launched Change the Channels, an initiative exposing this practice, and whistleblowers across the country have been sending us word about what’s happening in their communities. In August activists in cities ranging from Chicago, Il. to Denver, Colo. met with their representatives to fill them in on the details.