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The fractured tech lobby uphill

The fractured tech lobby uphill:

The Internet Association, which is the biggest lobbying group in Silicon Valley, is struggling to balance the different needs of the companies it represents at a time when the industry is facing anger from both parties. Why it matters: Tech will have to fight policy battles over antitrust, content moderation, and privacy without a unified industry voice.

What’s going on: Big tech companies have been getting a lot of attention in recent days for putting a hold on political donations after last week’s deadly attack on the Capitol. But lobbying, the other main way to get things done in Washington, hasn’t been working for tech for a while.
Tech’s biggest problem is that too many companies are working in different directions.

The Internet Association was started almost a decade ago to be Silicon Valley’s voice in Washington.
But now, its biggest members, like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, are more likely to clash as they try to divert policymakers’ anger away from themselves. Their goals can be very different from those of smaller members.

Facebook, for example, has shown that it’s open to new federal laws that set privacy rules and make small changes to Section 230, the tech industry’s liability shield. Smaller companies worry that big ones could handle the cost of complying while they struggle to stay in business.
What they’re saying: “A trade association can only do what its members tell it to do,” someone familiar with IA’s work told Axios. “Facebook’s request to be regulated hurts the smaller companies. It makes it hard for any organization with these two groups to be effective.”

Meanwhile, IA faces some problems that are unique to the organization:

A lack of leadership that it may only now be getting over. It just named Dane Snowden as its new president and CEO this week. Snowden was previously the COO of NCTA, a cable lobbying group. It lost its previous president, Michael Beckerman, to TikTok a year ago. The top lobbyist for IA, Michael Bloom, also went to TikTok.

There aren’t enough funds. Even though its members have deep pockets, it has a lot less money to spend than groups that represent industries with similar amounts of money. In 2019, for example, it got more than $9 million in membership dues, which was a small portion of the $63 million that NCTA got in dues that year.

Disengaged members. Unlike wireless or cable lobbying groups, IA’s board is mostly made up of government relations leads, not company leaders. This lack of involvement from tech’s top leaders is felt on Capitol Hill. “You don’t really feel like they have the weight of the companies behind them,” one Hill aide told Axios. “They’re a mouthpiece, but if you actually want to do something, you should call the companies directly.”

The other side: “The Internet Association is an organization in transition, but despite the headwinds, we faced in 2020, we have continued to change,” said Jon Berroya, IA’s interim CEO.

“Hiring Dane as IA’s new CEO gives us a natural chance to take a new approach,” he said.
Where it stands: The group still lobbies and testifies on behalf of its members. But tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey, Sundar Pichai, and Tim Cook are now expected to show up to congressional hearings themselves instead of sending a representative from a trade group.

The fractured tech lobby uphill

And IA doesn’t work on antitrust. That makes it less effective, and large companies fight hard for their own interests, often changing the policy conversation company by company, one tech industry leader told Axios.

IA is not the only game in town. There are a lot of other tech lobby groups, like the BSA, whose members are commercial software vendors, and the Consumer Technology Association, which represents consumer electronics makers (and which also puts on CES each year, now underway).

Yes, but that means that the different other groups have to focus only on the relatively narrow interests of their slice of the industry. That puts all of Silicon Valley in a tough spot because people on both sides of the aisle are angry about tech and are coming down hard on everyone.

“The tech industry has said it likes having a hall of mirrors so it can decide where to go with each issue,” a former industry executive said. “That was fine before techlash. It is not now.”


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