In a sign that Internet giants will help drive the agenda in Washington, more than half a dozen lawmakers representing both sides of the aisle today paid homage to the $8 trillion annual Internet industry—a part of the economy no lawmaker wants to disrupt, let alone upset.
Some of Congress' biggest names, including House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House oversight chairman Darrell Issa (D-Calif.), either praised the Internet economy or connected their pet issues to the Internet during a set of panels sponsored by The Internet Association. It was a remarkable show of influence for a new association.
Formed late last year, the group counts among its members Web giants such as Google and Facebook. Both companies have upped their lobbying game, bending the ears of Congress. Google last year spent nearly $16.5 million on such efforts, a 70 percent increase from 2011. In the same period, Facebook's lobbying spending jumped 196 percent to nearly $4 million.
“The Internet is the shipping lane of the 21st century,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), using a refrain from his speeches on the Internet.
Acknowledging that the success of any policy initiative on the Hill will probably need the support of Internet companies, Rep. Hoyer told the association, "It's going to be a critically important association to give us the advice we need."
Internet companies have already played a role in the ongoing debate around immigration reform, supporting legislation that will add high-tech skilled workers to their ranks. Playing up that support, Sen. Schumer made the case for companies to broaden those lobbying efforts.
“There will be a very large, fulsome program for high tech, but our problem is not in that area," Schumer said. "We need business groups to understand that to get high-skilled workers, we need some give on the low-skilled end. There has to be some give."
Several other members, including House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), talked about potential legislation to combat patent trolls, which are wreaking havoc on the Internet community by demanding fees for what many consider frivolous patents.
Calling it "litigation blackmail," Goodlatte scheduled the first hearing on patent trolls for Thursday before the subcommittee on courts intellectual property and the Internet.