from good riddance department
While this may sound like Washington DC insider baseball, it’s pretty remarkable that the “big” internet trade/lobbying group, the Internet Association, has announced its closure (Politico’s Emily Birnbaum got the inside scoop). eve of the official announcement). There will likely be a bunch of autopsies and talk about it, just like the big internet companies (which came together to set up AI in the first place) are subject to such regulatory threats. But, to me, it’s good riddance. It was an organization that more often than not made things worse for the internet, rather than making them better. And it’s a shame, because he had a real chance to do the opposite. That’s not to say there weren’t good people working there – there absolutely were. But as an organization, it missed a ton of opportunities to do the right thing.
The Internet Association was created in 2012, shortly after the fight against SOPA. I was asked to meet some of the people who set it up in the beginning, and I was a little confused as to its purpose. There are already a few trade groups that represent internet businesses, and I wasn’t entirely clear about the need to start a new one. The story I heard (more or less) was that the “big” trade groups – including the RIAA, (then) MPAA, NTIA, NCTA had all “professionalized” the trade group space, and that they were seen as much more official and powerful than the more rambling trade groups representing Internet companies – like CCIA. While there was also CTA (at the time, still known as CEA), which was larger and “professional”, it was considered to have too broad a coverage, not only representing the Internet (on which he actually does a great job), but the tech/electronics industry at large.
However, what struck me at the time of its founding, and in various meetings I’ve had with people from the Internet Association over the years, is that they seemed to have no fundamentals behind their lobbying and advocacy. It seemed like quite a Politics organization. Of course, any lobbying/professional group is – perhaps by definition – a political organization, which is often tasked with determining which way the wind is blowing on certain regulations. But, despite it all, the most successful business groups always seem to have some fundamental fundamentals they fight for (even if those fundamental fundamentals are sometimes stupid and wrong – see: RIAA, MPAA, etc.). And that’s what makes their advocacy more powerful. The Internet Association never really seemed support for nothing.
All of this came to a head, especially during the Internet Association’s flip-flop on FOSTA. As you may remember, there was a pretty unified front against FOSTA from all over the Internet, and then suddenly – almost completely out of the blue – the Internet Association endorsed it. As I wrote in a great post mortem on how FOSTA became law, much of the blame can be placed on the Internet Association. It is true that Facebook and Netflix (two giant members at the time, although Netflix left later) decided that FOSTA was not a fight they were interested in. This pissed off the smaller IA members. Verry much. A few days after the announcement, I spoke to someone at a smaller (but still quite successful) internet company, who spent the better part of an hour venting angrily about how the Internet Association screwed them up, and that many other smaller members felt the same way.
Later I met two different executives at AI who both tried to defend the decision saying “if we didn’t do this something worse was going to happen” but no one else seemed to. believe (and members of Congress told me that was not true – and that they had in fact been very close to something that would have been much better). This was, again, a political decision rather than a principle. And, after that, the Internet Association could no longer be trusted.
And as if to put a huge exclamation mark on the idea that the Internet Association was political rather than principled, she pulled out this piece of nonsense:
Compounding issues were the decision (after a year-long search, during which the organization had no permanent director) to appoint someone with no real experience in the internet, or the bigger issues related to politics Internet, to be the new executive director. Instead, he was someone who had worked primarily in telecommunications, including several large, professionalized business groups in that space. And, again, you can see the thought there, given the Internet Association’s desire to strike at that level. But, again, it left the organization without a position of principle and left the directional choices even more in the hands of its members – who don’t necessarily agree on things these days. Facebook’s power over organization (as seen in the FOSTA ruling) has also disabled many companies that are just tired of Facebook ruining the internet for everyone.
In other words, this was a lobbying group that had no reason to lobby, and what little lobbying it did, it did so half-heartedly. It was just going through the expensive motions. So, good riddance to the Internet Association. There are still other groups that really stand by their principles and seem to be doing a damn good job of fighting for fundamental ideas around the internet – like CCIA, CTA, Engine Advocacy, NetChoice and (newest entrant), the Chamber of Progress. These organizations, although business groups, actually tend to lead on ideas, have strong principled positions, and are able to make a real difference. It’s a shame that the Internet Association has never really been able to do the same.
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Filed Under: lobbying, trade groups
Companies: facebook, internet association