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The Internet Association is relatively new to the Washington tech policy scene. When was the Internet Association formed and who do you represent?
The Internet Association launched in the fall of 2012. We were founded with 10 members looking for an organization to serve as the unified voice of Internet companies on matters of public policy. We advance public policy solutions that strengthen and protect Internet freedom, foster innovation and economic growth, and empower users.
The Internet Association was launched on the heels of, but not in response to, the debate over the Stop Online Privacy Act (H.R. 3261) and the Protect IP Act (S. 968). Conversations about starting the association had been ongoing for many years before SOPA/PIPA, but it was certainly an example of why an association of just Internet companies is so necessary.
Today, the Internet Association represents over 35 of the world's leading Internet companies. Our membership includes Airbnb, Amazon, Auction.com, Coinbase, Dropbox, eBay, Etsy, Expedia, Facebook, FanDuel, Gilt, Google, Groupon, Handy, IAC, Intuit, LinkedIn, Lyft, Monster Worldwide, Netflix, Pandora, PayPal, Pinterest, Practice Fusion, Rackspace, reddit, Salesforce.com, Sidecar, Snapchat, SurveyMonkey, TripAdvisor, Twitter, Uber Technologies, Inc., Yahoo!, Yelp, Zenefits and Zynga.
We are different from other “tech associations” because our membership is narrowly focused to Internet companies. This enables us to dig deeper into policy issues than groups with broader membership representing a diversity of interests. I say that every Internet company is a tech company, but not every tech company is an Internet company.
What's your professional background?
Prior to the Internet Association I worked for 12 years on Capitol Hill. I served as the Deputy Staff Director of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee is charged with overseeing America's Internet policies.
What issues on Capitol Hill are your members most engaged in?
The Internet touches so many different areas of the economy, so our activity on Capitol Hill covers a wide range of issues and industries. At the top of our legislative agenda this year has been patent reform, Electronic Communications Privacy Act reform and copyright.
Patent trolls use our legal system as a weapon to extort settlements from businesses of all sizes. Their business model capitalizes on a litigation cost mismatch that exists between the trolls and the businesses they are targeting. It is inexpensive for patent trolls to file meritless lawsuits, and they use the legal system to inflate the costs of defense.
When patent troll lawsuits are forced to a final judgment, the trolls lose the cases over 90 percent of the time. But the cost to defend against frivolous patent lawsuits can be well into the millions for even small companies. So businesses are forced into settling and paying to “license” the patent. It is not just Internet or tech companies calling for reform. There is a broad coalition of industries looking to put an end to this abusive tactic such as the retail and hotel industries. Patent reform has passed out of committee in the House, and we are waiting for the Senate to act.
Privacy is also an area where we have been active, such as our support for the passage of ECPA reform. The ECPA was passed in 1986, well before anyone could have imagined how ubiquitous the Internet would become. This outdated law allows law enforcement access to digitally stored information over six months old without a warrant.
If you ask anyone on the street whether their e-mail inbox deserves the same protections as their home mailbox, I think you would hear a resounding “yes!” In passing ECPA reform, Congress can provide users in the online world the same warrant protections they have in the offline world.
We are also very engaged in the conversations around copyright law. We believe U.S. copyright policy generally works as intended. The balanced copyright framework in the United States has facilitated a resurgence in content creation, and as a result, the limitations and exceptions in copyright law are as important as the exclusive rights. If Congress were to reform the copyright system, some areas in need of improvement are copyright office modernization, statutory damages reform, and reforms to the music licensing system.
On the regulatory side, we have been very active this year with weighing in on regulatory issues like net neutrality at the FCC and the sharing economy workshop at the FTC. We have also engaged heavily in the courts, weighing in on cases through amicus briefs that have important implications for the Internet.
In the states we have spent a lot of time advocating on behalf of sharing economy platforms like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Airbnb, Flipkey and Home Away.
We are focused on ensuring that innovative sharing economy platforms are able to compete in the marketplace.
I view the issues sharing economy platforms face in the states as fitting into two general buckets. In the first bucket are outdated laws and regulations on the books—many put in place before the invention of the commercial Internet—that serve as an impediment to increased competition. For instance, the requirement of a part-time ridesharing driver to potentially obtain commercial license plates on a car. There is no reason for this type of regulation to be on the books and is bad for today's consumers.
In the second bucket are laws and regulations put on the books by disrupted industries to restrict competition and choice for consumers. One example of this might be a law that requires a certain amount of time to elapse between the ordering of a car and getting in the car. This type of regulation is insidious, because they often feature spurious consumer protection concerns that require rebuttal.
It is our job to help our members tell their stories and make the case that they deserve to compete. Ultimately allowing sharing economy platforms to compete benefits end users, because they get lower prices and higher quality when platforms are allowed to thrive.
Looking toward 2016 and the next Congress, what should Congress do to promote a vibrant Internet economy?
The most important thing that Congress can do is first to do no harm. The Internet marketplace is fiercely competitive—competition is only a click away—so policymakers generally should avoid regulating or legislating in a way that would create rules up front that could ultimately stymie innovation over the long term. Innovation in the Internet sector is moving so fast that it's likely that legislative and regulatory solutions would be obsolete by the time they are enacted. Our first goal is to make sure that the Internet industry can continue being such a bright spot in our economy. The Internet Association's just released economic report shows that the Internet sector was responsible for an estimated 6 percent or 966.2 billion of real GDP in 2014.
Most of the key legislation pertaining to the Internet was written quite a while ago. The Communications Decency Act became law in 1996. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted in 1998. Both laws predated the emergence of social media, as well as peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies and cloud-based Internet service providers, many of which exist outside the United States. Some say that the balance struck by these statutes should be recalibrated to meet current social problems such as hate speech and piracy.
While it's true that the DMCA and CDA Section 230 predate today's innovations, the cases interpreting them do not. In fact, many of today's leading companies wouldn't exist without these legal frameworks. For the most part, the courts have done a good job applying these laws to specific fact patterns, even in recent years. This is why we keep a close eye on cases at the state and federal level involving both Section 230 as well as state anti-SLAPP laws that impact the ability of end users to speak freely online.
The DMCA and CDA themselves have stood the test of time for the most part. The intermediary liability protections established in CDA Section 230 have given life to entire industries that would have been hard to imagine before the enactment of the legislation. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, and home-sharing platforms like Airbnb and Flipkey are able to exist because of these important protections. Intermediary liability protections are so important to our members that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was the recipient of our first Congressional Internet Freedom award in 2014 for his efforts to pass CDA 230 into law.
What's at stake for your members in the IANA transition effort and the Internet governance issue in general? Is it simply the need to preserve a global Internet, or is there more on the line than that?
A universally accessible Internet is a lofty ambition, so it's hard to say that there's something more important than that. There is no way to understate the importance of doing this transition right. From a process standpoint, we support a bottom up, multistakeholder approach to Internet governance in general, so we want the IANA transition to work and to stand out as a good example of this approach.
If the ICANN transition is done right and the multistakeholder model is given deference, then we certainly can see this model being applied in fora beyond ICANN, such as the International Telecommunication Union. We've said all along that it's important that ICANN is not susceptible to capture by any one stakeholder or group of stakeholders. The same holds true for other Internet governance bodies. We will remain engaged in this process to be sure Internet companies have their voices heard throughout the process.
The IANA transition presents an opportunity to revisit the relationship between the world's governments and ICANN. If the IANA transition takes place, and the U.S. government does indeed step back from its historic oversight role over the domain name system, do you think the relationship between governments and ICANN needs to be reassessed?
As we have said in our filings with ICANN in regards to the transition, we believe it's essential that ICANN develop bottom-up, consensus driven policies and guidelines, and for the organization to be directly accountable to the Internet community. The relationship between governments and ICANN will necessarily need to be reassessed as part of this transition process. It is absolutely essential that policies are built by a bottom-up multistakeholder process rather than a top-down manner by national governments.
Internet service providers are dispersed around the globe, many of them outside the United States. So too are bad actors. This state of affairs makes ICANN—given its control over much of the domain name system—potentially a highly effective tool to fight online wrongdoing: unlawful pharmacies, copyright infringement, or hate speech, to name a few. Do you think ICANN has a role here and, if so, what is it?
The ICANN community is certainly responsible for making progress on issues relating to the responsibilities of registrars, but rules do not require registrars to suspend sites based simply on third party accusations, nor does it mandate specific action that registrars must take when notified of alleged abuse or illegal activity. We believe this is the correct approach, as there are other mechanisms in place to deal with these issues that would not disrupt the functioning of the Internet.
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