New Tech Industry Lobby Launches

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KQED's JOSHUA JOHNSON: Who speaks for Silicon Valley, in Washington D.C.?

These days, the answer is ... complicated.

Every industry has a lobbying group, and now two more tech industry lobbies are getting in business.

One of them is launching Wednesday -- the Internet Association, with member companies like Google, Facebook, Zynga, Amazon, LinkedIn and Salesforce.

Michael Beckerman is the president and CEO of the Internet Association. Previously he worked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It has jurisdiction over Internet and telecommunications policy.

Tell me how this group came together.

MICHAEL BECKERMAN: This group came together well over a year ago. A number of the leading global Internet companies decided that it was about time to have a unified voice in the policy debate.

We have three planks: protecting Internet freedom, fostering innovation and economic growth and empowering users.

JOHNSON: There are a number of organizations that are in the Internet Association that are also in another lobbying group, called TechNet. That organization includes members in venture capital, finance, Stanford University is a member and even WGBH, the public media powerhouse out in Boston. Isn't the Internet economy already represented by TechNet? What more is there to do?

BECKERMAN: Well, I would say there are certain issues, obviously, where there's going to be overlap between the broader tech community and the Internet, but the Internet is a piece of broader tech, and so, as you mentioned the companies there, there are going to be differences between the Dotcoms, let's say, and companies that manufacture hardware or make chips.

JOHNSON: And beyond that it sounds like there's also a new lobby called the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, or the i2Coalition, and it represents cloud-computing companies and web-hosting firms and others. This relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington seems to be getting more complex, more formalized, more monied. What is this all about?

BECKERMAN: Well, I think from the Internet's perspective there was a time where maybe the Internet was just about cyberspace or Silicon Valley, but today, the Internet is Main Street America. It's every town in America. Small businesses - all kinds -- non-tech companies that are using the products and services of these companies to grow their business, hire new people and create economic growth.

JOHNSON: I can imagine that for people who are in Silicon Valley, of just anywhere, anyone who's got a Facebook account or Twitter handle, that you might look at the web and say, "Oh, well Capitol Hill must understand it on some level. Everyone's on email, plenty of people have Facebook and Twitter." Of course they understand the importance of the Internet and the need to regulate it wisely, but I wonder if you can give me an example of one of those issues where Internet companies feel they really do need to change the conversation in Washington, maybe more to their advantage.

BECKERMAN: In San Francisco, obviously, your folks are probably more tapped into what's new in tech, but on Capitol Hill they're not necessarily the first adopters. You know, having spent 12 years there, I can tell you with first-hand experience. So we need to explain to members and regulators, and even the media, about how the Internet has evolved.

This has become very bipartisan. Both parties, for the first time, have taken on Internet freedom planks in their party platforms. I can't think of something in recent memory when, you know, in the same year both parties are taking a similar plank. Just this week, Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), both Representatives from California, one on the right, one on the left, came together and wrote an op-ed about Internet freedom and declaration of Internet independence, and these are issues that defy party lines.

JOHNSON: One big issue on Capitol Hill that I know is probably on your radar is the cybersecurity bill that's stalled out in Congress. That would give the Department of Homeland Security more authority in protecting tech systems, including the digital components of critical infrastructure, like power plants. The White House is possibly going to send an executive order to propel that process forward. How does the Internet Association approach that issue?

BECKERMAN: Yeah, that's a very important issue. We want to make sure that the Internet and these consumer-facing Internet companies are not wrapped into the definition of critical infrastructure. Regulation is written, in the world we know today, and one of the great things about the Internet is it's very creative, very innovative, and six months from now there's going to be a new company, a new product that we can't possibly think about today. And under the wrong regulatory framework, that company, that new idea, that product that's going to create economic growth and jobs won't have a chance to get by.

There's a kid that probably that just started college this year - a Freshman in a dorm room talking to his friend about some great new idea and new innovation, and we want to make sure that that new idea has a chance to become the next great Internet company of tomorrow and create economic growth.

JOHNSON: And briefly Michael, what's the first move for the Internet Association? What's your first big move on Capitol Hill?

BECKERMAN: Well, our first big move today is announcing who our member companies are. We have a great list of 14 companies, and we expect to grow. But step 1 is just introducing ourselves to members - make sure they know we're here, and they know whom to call when they have an issue.

JOHNSON: Michael Beckerman is the president and CEO of the Internet Association. Michael, thanks for talking to us.

BECKERMAN: Hey, thank you. I appreciate it.

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