Internet-based companies, such as Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Salesforce and Yahoo, haven't really formally organized in the past to make sure that their business concerns and interests were being heard and recognized by political leaders across the United States.
That changed Sept. 19 with the official launch of The Internet Association, which claims to be the first trade association that directly represents companies that conduct their business online, as well as their customers and partners.
The charter members are Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Rackspace, Salesforce, TripAdvisor, Yahoo and Zynga.
"We're building this group from scratch," said CEO and president Michael Beckerman in an interview with eWEEK. "The Internet has a major impact on our economy. Our group will help the industry as a whole to grow, and we'll help the industry create jobs in other sections of the economy."
The new group has a three-pronged policy platform: protecting Internet freedom, fostering innovation and economic growth, and empowering users.
"Just like [government] regulators and legislators can't anticipate what will happen … we can't anticipate what regulations and legislative challenges will happen in the next several years," said Beckerman. "We just want to be ready. Part of my view is to win these battles before they start."
In the last couple years, the arrival of several proposed and controversial federal laws, including Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) acts were seen as real threats and were major wake-up calls for Internet companies, according to Beckerman.
The two bills were temporarily shelved by Congress last January after protests and opposition—including a voluntary Internet blackout in which some 7,000 sites such as Wikipedia made themselves inaccessible online for 24 hours—caused lawmakers to take a new look at the approaches of the proposed legislation.
SOPA aimed to give copyright holders broad legal powers to go after sites selling or distributing counterfeit content by forcing Internet service providers to block access to the sites and other sites from linking to them. Major Internet companies, civil liberties groups and security experts are bitterly opposed to the bill for what they view as unnecessarily broad powers granted to intellectual property owners to target pirates and Draconian measures that would stifle innovation and open communication on the Internet. PIPA was the Senate's version of SOPA.
Political parties are even gaining respect for the interests of the Internet as both major parties have for the first time included Internet freedom planks to their political platforms, said Beckerman. "The Internet is the fastest-growing sector of the economy, and more than that, it has positive effects on all aspects of the economy."
The group will seek to grow its membership base on a case-by-case basis, said Beckerman said. "Our core members are really a 'who's who' of key companies. They are major job creators."
Beckerman formerly worked as deputy staff director with the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation’s telecommunications and Internet policy. He previously was the chief policy advisor to Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
The group's official launch came two months after the then-fledgling group announced its formation and that it would unveil its creation and formal mission this month. Based in Washington, the group says it is "dedicated to strengthening and protecting a free and innovative Internet" while working with "Main Street businesses and individual users, to ensure that the Internet will always have a voice in Washington and a seat at the table."
David Sohn, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit public interest group that focuses on Internet policy, said his group works on many issues that will likely cross paths with the interests of The Internet Association.
"We're happy to see them come together as a voice in the space," said Sohn. "As a public interest group that works on public policy issues, we think it's great that the Internet industry has an active and coordinated voice in Washington. One thing that was apparent from the debate over SOPA and PIPA was that it showed that there is a real need for better education about Internet-specific issues."
One thing shown by the creation of the new group, said Sohn, is the increasing maturity of the industry. "Traditionally, Internet companies weren't too focused on Washington, D.C., because they were based in Silicon Valley. I think now that the industry is starting to realize how many of the decisions that are made in Washington can affect the industry, they're starting to realize how important it is that policy makers are aware at every level about what does and what doesn’t work for the Internet economy."