In a striking move, major Web-based companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay and Facebook are joining together in a new lobbying effort aimed at making their interests and legislative concerns known directly to government leaders.
The new Washington-based group, The Internet Association, unveiled itself on July 25 as a membership organization "comprised of some of the worlds most visible Internet companies," according to a statement.
A news report by Reuters quoted an unnamed source as confirming Google, Amazon, eBay and Facebook are among the group's first major members.
"We're not confirming or denying the identities of any members at this time," Michael Hacker, a spokesman for the group, said in a July 26 interview with eWEEK.
Asked why a group like this hadn't been formed in the past to lobby directly for Internet-based businesses over the last 15 years, Hacker said that the impetus was solidified last fall and early this year when proposed legislation such as the controversial Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) acts were seen as real threats.
"SOPA and PIPA were real wake-up calls to this industry," said Hacker.
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 aims 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 is the Senate's version of SOPA.
Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications for Facebook, replied in an email response that he had no comment about whether his company is a charter member of the new lobbying group.
"However, it is clear the Internet needs a voice in Washington and the formation of the Internet Association is a welcome development," wrote Noyes.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst with The Enderle Group, said the formation of the group is a smart move for the Internet industry.
"It's well past the time that somebody did this," said Enderle. "Some members of Congress still think of the Internet as a series of tubes. A group like this will help keep Congress informed so they're at least not making decisions in a vacuum."
Other Net-related legislation still pending before Congress includes the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA).
The Internet Association will be headed by Michael Beckerman as president and CEO. Beckerman previously was the deputy staff director with the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the nations telecommunications and Internet policy. He previously was the chief policy advisor to Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).
No one can predict what innovations will happen next" on the Internet, Beckerman said in a statement. "But we do know that the Internets decentralized and open model is what has enabled its unprecedented growth and innovation. We must guard against misguided attempts to handcuff this incredible source of job creation, freedom and creativity.
The mission of the group will be to acknowledge that what happens with the Internet affects everyone on Main Street and not just in Silicon Valley, said Beckerman. "Our top priority is to ensure that elected leaders in Washington understand the profound impacts of the Internet and Internet companies on jobs, economic growth and freedom."
The group said it will release full details about its organization and membership in September when it formally launches.
Federal lobbying spending has been increasing from companies like Google and Facebook recently, according to Reuters.
Google "increased federal lobbying spending by 90 percent year-on-year, spending $3.92 million in the second quarter to lobby the U.S. Congress, the White House and various federal agencies," Reuters reported. "The company, which is being investigated by antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe, lobbied officials at the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce."
Meanwhile, "Facebook boosted its spending on federal lobbying by 200 percent in the second quarter, spending $960,000 on issues including online privacy and immigration reform."
Another group with Internet companies as members, The Internet Defense League, was launched in May. That group involves companies such as Mozilla, WordPress and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The organization aims to help protect the Web against proposed laws and other actions members that could hinder Internet freedom.