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Fast Chat: The Internet Association's Michael Beckerman

Head lobbyist for 14 Web giants readies for new Congress

Photo: Eli Meir Kaplan

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There is no shortage of clout to back up Michael Beckerman, who heads up three-month-old The Internet Association as president and CEO. The trade association launched officially in September and counts as members 14 Web giants with deep financial pockets and influence, including Google, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and Zynga. Adweek caught up with Beckerman in TIA's new downtown Washington, D.C. office, where he and four others were still unpacking boxes. 

Adweek: The Internet community stopped online piracy bills in Congress without an association. So why do they need one now?
A number of years ago a few of the CEOs of some of the bigger Internet companies talked about having a voice in Washington, their own trade association. They kicked it around, but nothing really happened. The SOPA fight sped things up; it put the exclamation point on it that we really needed a trade association.

Now that you're no longer deputy staff director for Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, do you still have as many friends?
Yeah. I have some of the same friends and some new ones. It's very different than being on the Hill. At Energy and Commerce, we were at the center of the universe. People still want to bend our ear because we're starting an association for the fastest growing sector of the economy. Our membership roster is [a] who's who of companies you want to work for or do business with.

Except you don't have Microsoft and Apple.
They aren't Internet companies. Our companies' primary business is Internet-based, the dot-coms. Microsoft's primary business is software; the browser is a very small part of their business. Apple makes hardware.

If you could model your association after any other association, which come to mind?
We're not going to follow the same old model. We're going to be hyperlocal in the way we approach members of Congress. Most other industries lobby based on the states where they have offices or employees. Our companies don't have employees in every single town, but we're touching small businesses in every town across America. All those businesses on Main Street are using various Internet technologies to reach new customers, to hire new workers, to sell their products around the world and around the country. 

Everybody loves the Internet. So who is its foe?
Good question. The largest foe is just a misunderstanding of how the Internet works. Individual companies are better suited in dealing with their users and customers than the government. Laws and regulations get written based on what we know today and aren't mindful of innovations that might occur a year or five years from now. The other is unintended consequences. You can look back at SOPA; it was so egregious, so detrimental to the function of a free Internet. But a lot of the challenges will be small and incremental. They'll come in the dead of night. People won't be looking for them. That's why we are here. We can alert millions of individuals who lent their voice during SOPA/PIPA to things they might not otherwise catch.

How will you measure your success?
My measure of success is to never have that SOPA moment.