When it comes to Washington politics, the Internet isn’t screwing around anymore. On Wednesday, a cabal of tech titans that includes Google, Facebook, eBay, and Amazon unveiled the launch of a new Washington D.C. lobbying firm to help fight for the online economy. Called The Internet Association, the trade group comes at least partially in response to the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which were defeated early this year.
Former Congressional staffer Michael Beckerman will serve as The Internet Association’s president and CEO. Beckerman previously held positions as deputy staff director to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Internet and telecommunications policy, and as an advisor to th committee’s chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).
Beckerman tells the National Journal that the group, which officially launches in September, plans to push for an overall message of “hands off the Internet” on Capitol Hill by better highlighting the role of the open Internet as a crucial part of the U.S. economy.
The arrival of The Internet Association comes amidst an outpouring of lobbying cash from individual companies. Facebook spent roughly $960,000 between April and June of this year on lobbying efforts, reports The Hill — triple the amount it spent during the same period in 2011. The social network has so far spent $1.61 million on lobbying in 2012.
Google has so far spent nearly $9 million on lobbying this year, $3.9 million of which was spent during the second quarter. Amazon spent a total of $1.34 million from January to June, while eBay handed over $826,500 for lobbying during the same period, according to public records.
Launch of The Internet Association comes as a variety of other factions grow out of the Web to fight for the open Internet. While The Internet Association so far includes only major corporations (though it is apparently looking for additional members), others, like the Internet Defense Leauge (IDL), have a firm base in non-profits. IDL members include civil rights advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Fight for the Future; non-profit organizations like the WordPress Foundation and Wikipedia; plus smaller companies, like Reddit (a subsidiary of Conde Nast) and the Cheezburger Network.
The question, of course, is whether The Internet Association’s agenda will mesh with that of user-focused groups like the IDL. Gut instinct tells me that where there’s money, there’s trouble — and The Internet Association will presumably have lots and lots of money to throw at D.C. But Mike Masnick of TechDirt, which helped found the IDL, says not to worry just yet.
“One bit of advice, since I know many folks here will automatically be allergic to the idea of any sort of new DC-based trade group, even if it’s likely to be fighting against groups that seek to harm the open Internet: one way to hopefully avoid a bad result is to engage with this new group,” writes Masnick, who recently met with Beckerman. “Help them continue to fight the good fight by working with them, rather than automatically dismissing them.”
What do you think of large Internet companies pushing more weight in Washington? Will this help the open Internet, or simply create another force in the way of average Web users?
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