Looking to catch up on the critical issues affecting the Internet’s infrastructure without the exhaustive research? i2Coalition Co-Founder and Executive Director Christian Dawson sits down with experts to discuss issuing facing the Internet and its future. Topics include Intermediary Liability, Internet Governance, Abuse Reporting, Standards Setting, Privacy, Cyber Security, industry social issues, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Christian: Thank you all for joining us today. My name is Christian Dawson and I’m Executive Director of the i2Coalition. We teach people how the Internet works, particularly legislators, so that they don’t create situations that may break the Internet. With me today are two of the people that help us make that happen. The current i2Coalition Board Chair, Michele Neylon, and Frank Stiff who for the past few months have been our Chair Elect. He will take over for Michele as Chair at the beginning of next year. Thank you for joining me today. I’m excited to talk to you guys about your roles in helping lead the organization as we wind down a pretty successful 2018. That is in no small part due to your leadership the over this past year. One of the things that I want to acknowledge is that these leadership roles in the organization are volunteer roles that our members can take. You have both decided to, not only to make your company members, but dedicate some of your time. Can you both tell us a little bit about why you decided to do that?
Michele: Ultimately it’s important for those of us who take our businesses seriously to take a more holistic view of how the infrastructure industry is impacted by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic. The only way that you can effect change is by having a voice. While big companies are able to pay for lobbyists and having a presence in Washington, DC, Brussels or elsewhere, it’s only through industry associations like i2Coalition that the rest of us are able to have our voices heard. I quite like the idea of having a voice in these things. That’s the root of why I’ve engaged in this.
Frank: My business is entirely focused on infrastructure providers. We help people buy or sell Internet and infrastructure companies. We help raise money. The issues that are hitting the industry from Capitol Hill have a huge effect on the value of all these businesses which obviously affects our ability to work. To some extent, I guess I’m looking after my own self interests. However, this industry has been very good to us and many of the “solutions” that politicians are considering are inconceivable to me. They could have huge negative effects on infrastructure and innovation. That is why we jumped in right at the beginning of the i2Coalition to help wherever we could.
Christian: We are very glad that you both, and other members, have stepped up to help the industry as a whole. I’d like to take a moment, as it is the end of the year, to ask you to highlight the successes that you’ve seen.
Michele: One of the things that we need to recognize is as an organization we’ve gotten better at articulating our positions, which are the concerns of our members, in a more coherent and organized manner. That is largely due to the addition of Monica Sanders, our Policy Director, earlier this year. This is very important for us. Success for us is being able to gather up input from our members and get that info to those policy makers. Monica is helping us portray and deliver those concerns effectively
Frank: One thing I’ve noticed in the last year or two is the amount of credibility the i2Coalition name carries on Capitol Hill. I’ve sat in meetings and heard those on key committees refer to the i2Coalition as the “adults in the room.” These are senior people in Senate offices and committees who are turning to the i2Coalition’s expertise. They’ve come to us and said, we need your guidance and leadership here. We want to make sure we don’t hurt your members or
Christian: Having her step in and take over our policy team has been a fantastic boon to the organization. I’m looking forward to working with her more in 2019. Looking ahead to your perspectives for 2019, what do you each see as the biggest opportunity we have in front of us?
Michele: The opportunities are endless. Ultimately, all of our businesses work within the Internet infrastructure industry. This is something that is constantly evolving. The needs and requirements of our clients have evolved as the Internet as has evolved. The infrastructure that is available to clients and the public has changed. It would be crazy if policies that govern it did not change as well. There are opportunities for us to work closely with partners such as Eco in Europe, across the globe who also work on these issues and with whom we further professionalize our activities. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to work with these groups on industry spanning issues. One of my favorite of our groups is the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. Diversity issues are a key area in the technology industry that need to be addressed. That is something we can and will be working with groups across the globe on.
Frank: I agree with Michele. If you look at what is in front of us, we have a tremendous opportunity to educate policy makers before the creation of legislation that would negatively affect the Internet. Those pieces of legislation look to be coming in the next year. The same stuff is happening in Europe. We’re looking at mandatory upload filters. There is talk about making hosting companies liable for their customers content and actions. The idea that a registrar might be liable for something that a customer of theirs puts on a domain is scary. We see these things being discussed in European and US governments. While that is our biggest opportunity it is also the biggest challenge we’re facing going into the next year.
Christian: Thank you Frank, that is a great way to cover it. Michele, you are ending your term as chair of this organization. Let me ask you what you see as the biggest challenges for next year? As you leave your chairmanship, but not the leadership of the organization, what concerns do you have for the challenges in front of us?
Michele: We need to make sure we look at the industry holistically. We need to look at what everybody is doing, not just what our members are doing. The legislators and lobbyists who are trying to force changes in our businesses see us as a homogeneous lump. Frank mentioned intermediary liability. That was struck home to those of us who were at the IGF in Paris recently. The president of France essentially said that self-regulation didn’t work and they would be imposing regulation to “fix the bad stuff on the Internet.” That kind of statement from a major power is deeply worrying. This is not simply a question of us as upstanding citizens and being involved as i2Coalition members. We need to make sure that as many of the companies and people in the Internet infrastructure industry are paying attention and are on board. Every company out there that acts in an irresponsible manner has a negative impact on the rest of us. That is a challenge. That’s not a new challenge but it is one that we will have to face head-on in the next couple of years.
Christian: Your comment about making sure that everyone is on board is a good segue into why organizations, companies should join i2Coalition and organizations like us.
Frank: It’s a variety of reasons. There is the altruistic reason. This is an industry that has been very good to all of us working in it and to the world as a whole. It is within everyone’s best interest to make sure that our industry remains vibrant. It’s about giving back to that industry. The other issue, which may ring true for more people, is that the issues that are on the table will have a huge impact on our livelihoods. If you ever wanted to raise money or sell your business, these upcoming pieces of legislation we’re seeing could dramatically affect that. Frankly, I think we need everyone’s help.
Michele: I agree with Frank. The way we’ve structured membership fees for the i2Coalition, cost should not be an obstacle. There are many hosting providers and other players in the infrastructure space who aren’t particularly large businesses. That’s why our membership plans are based on revenue. No matter your size, you’ll fit. Of course, all members have the same membership privileges no matter how much they’re paying. If you’re not engaging through an organization such as ourselves and you discover that legislation is passed makes it difficult for you to continue in business, you only have yourself to blame. Smaller businesses especially need to engage.
Frank: You may think that if you’re a smaller provider you can’t have an impact. The US government is made up of 538 representatives that each have a say on legislation and all are concerned about their constituents. There is a big difference when you walk into a House Member’s or Senator’s office and an i2 member in the meeting has a business in their district. They listen to you. It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you are a constituent business that employs people in their district, you have a voice. You have the ability to make a meaningful impact. A key program of the i2Coalition is to get members in front of key members of Congress in annual fly-ins.
Christian: We’re going to close out with a couple of quick questions. We are just about to 2019. I am lucky enough to have the current and future leader of our organization. I want to start by asking you to frame what we can expect from your tenure next year, Frank.
Frank: My goal is to continue Michele’s work in finding ways to give the organization the resources it needs. The resources that will drive successful policy work. If I could spend a year having the same kind of positive impact that Michele has had, it would be a huge success.
Christian: Thank you, Frank. Michele, I will let you close us out with whatever words of wisdom you may have for Frank or for any of us for that matter.
Michele: Ultimately, like any membership organization, you get as much out of it as you put in. I remember one of the first meetings I ever had with a legislator and one of the first things he asked me when I sat down was which organization represented me. Whether you’re talking to U.S. legislators and or to ones in Brussels, they like and understand the concept of talking to trade associations. That was one of the reasons why I joined. If you want to have an impact joining groups just makes sense. In terms of advice for the future.
Christian: Thank you both for your time today. I look forward to working with you both on further successes in 2019.