We’ve had a slew of misguided efforts that threaten independent content creation, suppress free speech and even undermine established intellectual property legislations; all in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘combating online piracy’. Yesterday saw one more of them as the House Intelligence Committee passed the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) cybersecurity bill in an 18-2 vote behind closed doors. And just like that, all the coordinated efforts by internet giants and individual activists alike voicing their vehement opposition against it went down the drain.
Sure, the bill has a long way to go before it becomes a law, but still, the incident indicates that either
- the representatives are consciously ignoring the public voice and are belligerent on passing the bill
- or they simply have no idea what they are doing.
There have been numerous efforts to counter the first case- be it signing online petitions or black out of popular websites. However, there is a visible lacuna when it comes to countering the second case, i.e. telling your representatives that -‘Hey, you can’t even distinguish between a domain name and an IP address and you’re trying to regulate how I browse the internet?”
This is simply because the tech world doesn’t lobby as effectively as other industries do. A congressman who is no expert in biotechnology will most likely be called out and thoroughly informed on biotechnology issues by pharmaceutical company lobbyists. The same doesn’t hold true when it comes to internet issues.
This is where an organization like Internet Infrastructure Coalition comes in. An association of companies from the Internet infrastructure industry with key demographics in web hosting, data centers and registrars, it strives to educate legislators and members of the media about the Internet industry and the importance of legislative strategies that promote Internet growth and innovation.
Over to Mr. Christian Dawson, Chairman of i2Coalition and COO of Servint himself as he openly shares his views on the challenges facing the industry, the need of educating the legislators, the contribution of SMBs in making up the internet economy, patent infringement lawsuits and more.
When I talk to legislators, many of them have the impression that the Internet is something that AT&T and the telcos built, and that a few companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple use. They don’t realize that small and medium sized businesses make up the heart and soul of the Internet economy. They don’t know that there are 30,000 companies building the infrastructure to connect people and bring them online. They don’t understand that these companies bring not just jobs, but jobs that help every business around the world to grow.
– Mr. Christian Dawson, Chairman, i2Coalition.
Q : Before we begin with the proceedings, a quick brush up- How did the Internet Infrastructure Coalition come into being and what is its basic premise and mandate?
A: Before there was the Internet Infrastructure Coalition we put together an informal group called Save Hosting Coalition, which was laser-focused on fighting COICA, which was the precursor to SOPA & PIPA, and then to SOPA & PIPA when they came along. We realized after having success with that group that:
a: the challenges facing our industry are only just beginning, and more is sure to come
b: there is obvious strength in numbers, as evidenced by what our companies were able to accomplish with SOPA/PIPA
That’s why we started the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, or i2Coalition. The basic premise is simply to be the collective voice of the Internet infrastructure industry, which includes hosting providers, datacenters, registries, registrars, cloud infrastructure providers and the companies that support those industries. In short, we are the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Internet. We build it, and should have a say in what happens to it. Since some legislators don’t fully understand how it works, as evidenced by the sometimes misguided laws that get thrown our way, we also collectively take responsibility to teach legislators how the Internet works. Education is our best weapon. When we educate Congress, we win. SOPA/PIPA is our best example of that.
Q: How has the organization grown since its inception last year with 42 members?
A : Now we have about 65 member companies. In April we started our very first ‘membership drive’ and we are getting a great response from the industry. Since there is strength in numbers we are very interested in recruiting new companies who want to help the industry grow and succeed. The I2C has established itself as a leading voice for our industry and we expect to continue to expand.
Q : In spite of heavy backlash by the big guns of the internet and individuals alike, CISPA moved to the House today after closed-door 18 to 2vote. It’s the 6th time lawmakers have tried to pass an Internet destroying legislation. Even if CISPA goes down like SOPA and PIPA, bills like these will continue to pop up. Do you think there are any real chances of winning this? What can the individuals do now other than donating to EFF and contacting their representatives?
A: Right now we’re underdogs because many people don’t have sufficient understanding of what we do or how essential it is to the U.S. economy. When I talk to legislators, many of them have the impression that the Internet is something that AT&T and the telcos built, and that a few companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple use. They don’t realize that small and medium sized businesses make up the heart and soul of the Internet economy. They don’t know that there are 30,000 companies building the infrastructure to connect people and bring them online. They don’t understand that these companies bring not just jobs, but jobs that help every business around the world to grow.
These days everybody has an online presence. The digital economy IS the economy – and it’s built on top of the infrastructure we create and maintain every day. The more we can illuminate the importance of what we do the more strength we will have.
And because there are Internet infrastructure companies everywhere, we will get to the point where we have somebody in every Congressional district who can talk to their legislators about the economic impact of the Internet in their area. They can talk about how bad Internet legislation will not only affect their ability to create jobs, but their continued ability to empower all the businesses around them, be it the local car dealership, farmer or young entrepreneur, who I guarantee are all online, connected and part of an ecosystem that needs to be preserved and protected.
Q : You have an experience of working with a plethora of businesses and law enforcements. So I’d request your insights on two questions:
- With President Obama’s executive order in place, the government can already share threat info with companies, so is there really a need for CISPA? What can you say about this aspect?
A. The executive order basically took the place of what CISPA started out as, but not what it has become. CISPA is now designed to aid information sharing between government bodies, from the government to business, and from businesses to government. The executive order doesn’t do all that.
I sincerely believe that the goal of CISPA is a good one – to increase online security overall by making it easier for entities to point out threats to one another. That’s sensible. Ideally, CISPA should cut through bureaucratic red tape and allow information and aggregate data to be shared for security purposes while protecting the privacy rights of customers. Unfortunately that’s not where we are right now.
- Why do you think that many big organizations who were against SOPA, are voicing their support for CISPA and think that it is a good idea?
A: We know that online security threats ARE real, and everybody is a target, especially those big organizations. We do need more tools to combat those threats. I don’t think big companies are excited to give away sensitive customer data. I think that to a certain extent they are assuming that if the government is going to require that data of them anyway that they might as well support a law that indemnifies them if they do.
What we need to do is insist if we agree increased online security tools are necessary the tools will not come at the expense of privacy. We could actually have a good law if CISPA focused exclusively and unequivocally on de-identified aggregate data. Then these companies wouldn’t even ever need indemnification, because they would never be asked to turn over actual customer information.
Q: What do you have to say to an individual who doesn’t own a website? Why should he become an active opponent of anti-privacy laws?
A: If you use the Internet, or know somebody who does, you should care about Internet politics. The Internet has changed our lives forever – in mostly wonderful ways. The world is coming together faster than ever before, and people are accomplishing incredible things together. The start-up community is booming and online businesses are strong. As other industries stumble in this difficult economy, the Internet is what’s working. If you care about sustaining and growing the economy you should care about Internet freedom, because Internet freedom goes hand in hand with the innovation economy that is driving us forward, both within the U.S. and globally.
Q: i2Coalition recently hosted Internet Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill to educate members of Congress and other key legislative and regulatory stakeholders on the complexities and workings of the Internet. This, I must say is a unique and unprecedented initiative. Can you share your experience and the response you got?
A: It was amazing, and I can’t wait to do it again!
You sometimes fear that when you go to talk to people in power you’ll get ignored unless you bring a big check. That wasn’t our experience at all. The message we received was “Where have you been? We have needed you to explain these things to us!”
We were joined by Senators Moran and Wyden and Chairman Issa. We had a packed room, lots of press and 27 representatives from our industry teaching different aspects of the Internet and how it works. By having 15 stations we gave Congressional members and their staffers small, one-on-one sessions that allowed them to ask questions without feeling on the spot.
There isn’t nearly enough Internet knowledge on Capitol Hill but nobody wants to be the person who asks the dumb question in public. Our number one goal was to make connections with the people who need to understand the Internet better, so that when they need experts they turn to us. I think the experience was astounding.
Glimpses of Internet Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill
Q: Can you please throw some light on i2Coalition’s Public policy committee and Operational committee?
A: Ultimately we’re an organization that is driven by the interests of our members. People sign up to work on the issues that are important to them. Some people can help us do more stuff like the Internet Advocacy Day by helping out in the Internet Education working group. Others may want to work on privacy or patent or copyright issues in the Public Policy group. Members can join and help steer these groups.
Q: In the light of recent events, what is i2Coaition’s course of action to combat patent infringement lawsuits from patent trolls who stifle innovation?
A: As part of our Internet Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill we had 2 days of meetings with members of Congress to discuss our policy issues. Patent reform was one of the issues we talked about most. We can shed light on the huge problem patent trolls have been for our industry and our innovative clients, and we can be a megaphone for member companies like Rackspace who actually have the ability to stand up to patent trolls and fight. We continue to look for new ways to make a strong impact while fighting for patent reform, so keep an eye on us if you’re interested in this subject.
We are hosting a really interesting forum about this particular subject at HostingCon in Austin this June and I encourage people to attend.
Q: As an ardent proponent of Internet freedom, what’s your take on Bitcoins; a free and open decentralized currency?
- Is its use really ‘unethical’, as proposed by many because it’s attractive to sellers of illegal products and also helps evade taxation?
- Also, will it be able to sustain its meteoric rise or is it just a bubble which will burst soon?
A: We’re focused on a few key policy issues where we feel we can make an impact on active legislation. This issue hasn’t come to the forefront of the policy debates we’re engaged in so far.
The Internet is a constantly changing environment, and it’s forcing us to reexamine age-old practices and laws in order to keep up with the changing times. The development of Bitcoins is just one of those examples. It’s no surprise that people look for alternatives to the way things have been done. That’s the very heart of innovation. The Internet is making the world more globally connected and Bitcoin is just one example that the world isn’t going to stand still for anything or anyone.
Q: How do you bring together organizations that are direct competitors in their businesses to become a member of i2coalition? You have a lot of them.
A: Our members understand that while they may compete for customers, they often agree on what a good policy looks like. They know that by coming together as a group, they can make a larger difference in the outcome of legislation and regulation than if they tried to go it alone. In addition, our members are largely focused on growing their businesses. Since most are small-to-medium sized businesses, they don’t have the time or resources to fight policy battles themselves, so they join the i2Coalition to ensure their voice gets heard.
Q: What should the members of hosting industry do to get involved or be a member of i2Coalition? After becoming part of the group, what exactly will their role be and how will they assist you in your upcoming campaigns?
A: The way to get started is to go to i2coalition.com and become a member. At that point you get invited to plug into working groups where your interests lie. Our members can choose to be as active as they want. We depend on volunteers to extend our impact. Our dues structure is based on company revenue, so it’s tailored to be affordable for any organization. Like I said before, there’s strength in numbers. We could use your voice and would love to see you join and help us protect and grow the industry that we love.
Q: To wrap up, how do you plan to further establish and grow yourself as an organization in 2013?
A: I believe we are in a noble profession. What we do fuels business and drives innovation. It’s important. When I look at the rest of 2013 I want to see more members helping us do more. It takes a lot of time and money to make a difference, and those of us already in the tent can’t do it alone. By growing our membership we can continue to grow our already impressive voice in places like Capitol Hill – but we can also do things that really add credibility to groups like ours, like conducting research and issuing reports that strengthen our policy arguments.