Silicon Valley’s Influence and Power in Washington May Be Curtailed Under Trump


Silicon Valley’s influence and power in Washington has grown in the Obama years.

The question is whether that growth will be curtailed with Donald Trump’s election.

Internet companies have stormed onto D.C.’s lobbying scene, opening up in-house shops and hiring established lobbyists to gain influence.

Google, Amazon and Facebook increased their spending on Washington lobbyists over the last eight years and are closing the gap overall with the telecommunications industry, an older power in the capital.

Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Cellular Telecom and Internet Association, the top three telecom spenders, spent $3 million more in the first three quarters of 2016 than Google, Amazon and Facebook.

In 2008, the top three internet lobbying spenders spent over $26 million less than the the top three telecom equivalents. Though fourth quarter spending hasn’t been released yet, it’s not likely that gap will close.

This has given the companies a bigger seat at the table, and more influence behind the scenes.

“The reality is that if you’re not explaining yourself to policy makers, you’re not going to have the policies in place that allow innovation to flourish,” said the Internet Association’s Noah Theran. His organization represents Google, Twitter and Amazon.

Telecom and cable corporations who had previously held the alpha role in lobbying have taken notice.

“There’s definitely tension between Silicon Valley and the old power structures,” said a communications industry insider. “I think there’s a feeling — a legitimate feeling that this administration and the FCC bend over backwards for Google in particular.”

The tension wasn’t always present. Silicon Valley at one point had famously dismissed Washington, D.C., assessing that it could be the new capital of change in the U.S.

That attitude shifted as the tech industry saw a greater need to work with Washington. A touchstone was the Justice Department antitrust suit against Microsoft.

After having to appeal an initial order to break into two separate business, Microsoft quickly learned that it needed to have a Washington, D.C. presence if it wanted to preemptively ease regulatory problems later on.

“Any new industry goes through the growing pains of how and when and why to engage with policy makers and the rapid growth of the internet industry is no different,” said Theran.

Trump’s presidency may change how the battles play out for the next four to eight years, however.

Trump has had a rockier relationship with some tech companies, including Apple. He at one point during the campaign suggested a boycott of the company’s products over its encrypted phone.

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