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Sizing up the crush of tomorrow's technology at the Consumer Electronics Show

D.C. Does Vegas
Meet Me in the Internet Lobby

Vint Cerf, Internet legend, attended CES, doing what he does best. Cerf, Google’s “chief Internet evangelist” (yes, that’s the title on his business card), symbolized the fervor of the online community when it comes to policy. The Internet—protecting it and cultivating it, keeping it free from harm—is practically a religion, worshipped by everybody. Does the Internet have any enemies?

There certainly weren’t any in Las Vegas. In fact, you would have to go to a whole other country to find them—say, Russia. As it happens, that’s precisely where Cerf’s title recently got him into trouble. Russian officials thought Cerf might be peddling an actual religion. His response: “I told them I was Geek Orthodox.”

Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, is another apostle. Practically a fixture at policy sessions, he was still riding on the success of his Reddit bus tour through the heartland this past summer, forever immortalized in Silicon Prairie, a 22-minute film that was premiered at CES and that will be shown inside the Beltway on Jan. 15. Speaking about his first foray into politics, Ohanian said, “It’s worked out OK. We are a generation that cares so much about this Internet.”

Now is the time to take Internet politics beyond the SOPA blackout and develop a more permanent strategy, he added. “We can’t just keep phone bombing Congress,” he said, referring to the 15 million people who dialed up Congress, demanding members stop SOPA.

Ohanian’s next big idea? Geek Day. “We’ll descend on Washington in a very geeky and polite way,” he explained. (The doubters should remember that Reddit’s bus tour got a lot of attention.)

One of the latest apostles is Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of The Internet Association, a newly formed consortium of companies including Google, Facebook, Zynga and IAC whose mission is the protection of “Internet freedom.”

A former Hill staffer, Beckerman knows what will move lawmakers. “The more we can get into positive stories, quantify how many jobs the Internet is creating in sectors, tell how the Internet impacts peoples’ lives, the more we can get into [lawmakers’] minds,” Beckerman said. “Each company, each individual needs to contact their congressional representative and tell them how their business has reached new markets, hired new people. So when a bill comes around, the House member or Senator knows they talked to constituents. That matters to every elected official and it changes the dialog.”

Then, there’s the Don Quixote of the Internet: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the reason the online community spent so much time taking victory laps after shutting down SOPA a year ago. Looking beyond the SOPA fight, Wyden came equipped with a new meme: “The freedom to compete.” Because of Wyden’s status as an Internet policy rock star, the phrase is likely to reverberate among lawmakers and Internet policy advocates, taking its place alongside such terms as net neutrality and Internet freedom. “The innovation that is displayed in Vegas needs to be disseminated around the world,” as Wyden put it.

If the online and tech communities are looking for their next big fight, it might be taking down the patent trolls. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) aims to slay those players that extort $29 billion in patent settlements from unsuspecting companies, or at least deal them a serious blow. He announced plans to reintroduce the Shield Act (Shield is an acronym for Saving High-Tech Innovators From Egregious Legal Disputes). “Congress is wary of going after software patents, so we’re going after the procedure. It may be small ball, but I believe it will have an impact,” DeFazio said.

Meanwhile, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski picked up a new nickname at CES: “The spectrum chairman.” He spoke to a highly receptive audience, announcing that the agency will next month begin the process of freeing up more spectrum for WiFi.

“When you see what is going on on the [CES] floor,” he said, “you realize we have to do something about this.” –Katy Bachman

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