Silicon Valley web giants go their own way with new lobbying startup

Web giants in Silicon Valley are pouring cash into a lobbying startup after deciding that Washington’s established groups aren’t sufficient for protecting their interests.

Google, Facebook, eBay and Amazon are among the founding members of the new lobbying outfit, which will be known as the Internet Association.

ADVERTISEMENT
The goal of the group, set for a formal launch in September, is to fight for legislation that protects an “open, innovative and free Internet,” according to Michael Beckerman, the association’s president.

The tech firms weren’t exactly lacking representation in the capital before. Associations such as TechAmerica, the Information Technology Industry Council and the Consumer Electronics Association have been representing the tech sector for years.

But those groups also represent wireless carriers, software developers and device makers — industries sometimes at odds with the Web companies over policy and legislation.

Beckerman, who just recently stepped down as a top aide to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), argues that companies that are primarily focused on providing online services do not always have the same interests as the rest of the technology sector.

“We’ve never really had a unified, consensus voice for Internet issues,” Beckerman said in an interview with The Hill.

One lobbyist from an established technology association said it is a “logical move” for the Internet companies to strike out on their own.

“The Internet guys probably want to have a forum to discuss issues that are unique to them,” he said. 

The lobbyist said the agendas of the tech associations and the Internet firms often diverge. He noted that many of the established groups are busy with tax reform, even as companies like Google and Facebook fixate on privacy bills that threaten their businesses.

Beckerman said the contentious debate earlier this year over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a “wakeup call” that prompted Internet companies to develop their own dedicated lobbying force in Washington. 

The bill would have required websites and search engines to cut off access to foreign sites that the government deemed “dedicated” to copyright infringement. 

Google executives argued SOPA would have forced them to police the Internet and waged an all-out lobbying war against it. Congress was forced to retreat after the company gathered 

7 million signatures opposing the bill as part of a massive Web protest.

But not all technology companies took a hard line against SOPA. Combating online piracy is a top priority for many software companies, and the Business Software Alliance initially applauded lawmakers for introducing SOPA before later saying it needed more work. 

The SOPA battle created a rift between Internet companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the powerful pro-business lobbying group. Although many Internet companies are members of the Chamber, the group sided with its entertainment industry members and aggressively lobbied for the legislation.

Yahoo quit the Chamber over the issue, and Google reportedly considered leaving.

Beckerman said the first goal of the Internet Association will be to educate lawmakers about the danger of any policy proposals that might “put the brakes” on Internet innovation.

He said many lawmakers who do not have big Internet companies in their districts do not pay close attention to the concerns of the industry. But he argued that every member of Congress should care about the Internet industry because all lawmakers have Internet users and companies that rely on the Internet in their district. 

“Every single member of Congress needs to start thinking of themselves as an Internet member,” Beckerman said.