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Internet companies want more influence in California legislature


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Internet companies now make up a significant portion of the global economy. Capital Public Radio's Katie Orr says they're also the focus of an increasing amount of legislation and they want a voice in how those bills are written.

Old and new ways of living clashed at the California Capitol this legislative session.

Drivers from the Internet based ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft flooded a committee hearing to protest proposed regulations for their industry. Traditional taxi drivers gathered to support the tougher rules. Senator Alex Padilla noted the discussion was one that wouldn't have happened a few years ago.

"The wonderful challenge that we have on complex issues like this is, in large part, driven by technology and innovation and things that 50 years ago people wouldn't have imagined, forcing important public policy questions," said Padilla. 

Those policy questions are being debated more frequently and Robert Callahan wants to have a role in answering them. Callahan is the Executive Director of the California branch of the Internet Association. That's a relatively new lobbying group that represents many large Internet companies.

"Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo, Yelp, Uber and Lyft," said Callahan. 

The Association lobbies on issues at the federal level in Washington, DC and just opened a California office, its only state branch. Callahan says there's plenty to work on.

"Net neutrality is big at the federal level right now. We're heavily engaged in that. There's patent reform issues," said Callahan. "But also just issues that you would never have thought about like, what are the decedent rights to a social media account after the account holder passes away?"  

Callahan says Internet companies are in their adolescence compared to other businesses. But he says they are growing up fast.

"They are becoming more established in Capitol domes around the country, but that's for a good reason, because policy makers are starting to look at them and consider what if any regulations should apply and we need to have a voice there," said Callahan. 

Timothy Karr is with Free Press, a non-partisan group that works for with it calls a "free and open Internet."

"You know, in general, I don't think corporate lobbyists are serving the interest of consumer," said Karr. "Corporate lobbyists are there to serve the bottom line of the companies that hire them, often times that means promoting policies at the expense of consumers." 

Karr says Internet companies are lagging behind more traditional industries that have a long history of lobbying and making campaign contributions. But he says they're working to catch-up and there are plenty of opportunities.

"At the state level, at the federal level and even at the city level there are a lot of issues and policy related to Internet access, related to free speech on the Internet, related to privacy on the Internet," said Karr. "It has become one of the defining policy issues of our time." 

It's an area that will likely continue to be hotly debated as the online world increasingly crosses over to everyday life.