Internet Lobby Expands, Eyes Europe

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Internet Lobby Expands, Eyes Europe

By Neil Munro

Staff Writer

The bigger the Internet industry, the more lobbyists it acquires.

Several major companies are trying to form an Online Alliance of Europe, while the Reston, Va.-based Internet Society also is looking to expand its worldwide role. And several Internet firms have formed a new association that excludes software and phone companies.

The European group would be composed of major online companies operating in Europe, such as Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., and America Online, Dulles, Va., said Bill Burrington, AOL's public policy chief. The alliance, which may be based in Brussels, Belgium, is just getting off the ground, he said.

The creation of a lobbying group in Europe is becoming more important for the expanding online industry, partly because European officials have established extensive consumer privacy laws, which are opposed by the U.S. infotech industry. They are also considering plans to tax online commerce and suppress obscene or indecent online information exchanges.

Burrington also welcomed an increased role for the Internet Society, which helps set technical standards for Internet users.



Internet Society President Donald Heath said he is trying to use the international debate over Internet domain names to promote the society's role in other controversies.

Society President Donald Heath said he is trying to use the international debate over Internet domain names to promote the society's role in a variety of other controversies, such as access charges, encryption and content regulation. The society has already intervened in the encryption debate by trying to persuade European officials to reject U.S. government proposals at international talks on encryption policy, Heath said.

But the society does not have the political clout or money to wield power in the infotech controversies, said Sheldon Laube, chief technology officer for USWeb Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.

Heath acknowledged the society's lack of clout, saying "as soon as someone with real clout decides to disagree ... there's not much you can do about it."

The latest association to join the fray is the United States Internet Providers Association. Created by Rudolph Geist, a lawyer at Washington-based Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane, the association only includes Internet companies. Charter members include Erol's Unlimited Internet Inc., Springfield, Va.; Earthlink Networks Inc., Pasadena, Calif.; and Aegis Inc., a backbone provider based in Dearborn, Mich.

Internet providers "need to have their own group. You can't get things done if you have too many interests involved," said Geist. For example, the group will work to minimize its members' liability in disputes over online theft of intellectual property, rather than protect software companies, he said.

But the USIPA is a duplicative organization, said Burrington, who is a board member of the Silver Spring, Md.-based Interactive Services Association. The ISA includes a variety of companies and recently spun off a new group to protect online gambling.

Others argue the association is arriving too late to shape top-level policy decisions. "By the time [USIPA] gets its act together, all this will be over," said Barbara Dooley, executive director of the Herndon, Va.-based Commercial Internet Exchange Association, a group that includes several Internet companies and some major computer manufacturers.

With the formation of the USIPA, "we've got a lot of cooks in the kitchen. It is not going to work," Burrington said.

Internet Society President Donald Heath said he is trying to use the international debate over Internet domain names to promote the society's role in other controversies.


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