Campaign strategists and pundits are always trying to predict the newest or most important political demographic groups. For a long time, it was seniors. That was followed by the dawn of the "soccer mom" and lately there has been a lot of talk about "NASCAR dads." But the strongest untapped political factor these days is rarely mentioned, despite representing a force central to the lives of nearly every American -- the Internet.
The political awakening of the Internet voter happened earlier this year when an unprecedented effort to censor web content came dangerously close to becoming law. This threat to free expression awoke a sleeping giant, and on January 18, 2012, the Internet went dark. During the blackout, more than 10 million Americans and 100,000 websites participated in a day of online activism, engaging their elected representatives in direct democracy en mass for the first time.
But who exactly were these Internet activists? The movement crossed party lines and united millions of liberals, conservatives, libertarians and independents. Much like the Internet itself, the protest was organic, bottom-up and decentralized. One thing is clear, they all passionately believe they have a vested interest and stake in the future of the Internet -- and they are right.
The attempt to censor the Internet was a political wake-up call. Today, we are proud to announce that some of the most recognized Internet companies in the world -- Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Rackspace, salesforce.com, TripAdvisor, Yahoo!, and Zynga -- have joined forces to create The Internet Association, an umbrella public policy organization dedicated to strengthening and protecting an innovative and free Internet.
These leading companies that form the backbone of the Internet economy recognize that the Internet needs a unified voice. Congress nearly altered the Internet's fundamental DNA without fully appreciating the perspectives and concerns of the engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and tens of millions of individual users that make the Internet what it is today. The Internet Association was formed to protect an innovative and free Internet and to relentlessly represent this critical economic sector, in collaboration with main street businesses and individual users, to ensure that the Internet will always have a seat at the table in Washington.
The three planks of the association's advocacy platform are: protecting Internet freedom; fostering innovation and economic growth; and empowering users. The unique nature of the Internet, free from government control, has unleashed unprecedented entrepreneurialism, creativity and innovation, far beyond imagination. But what about tomorrow? No one can predict what innovations will happen next. But we do know that the Internet's decentralized and open model has been the catalyst that has powered this information revolution.
The Internet is now ubiquitous when it comes to business. That is why the Internet is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, representing a full 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth in the past five years. The more interesting reality is that "Internet jobs" are not just in Silicon Valley anymore, they are on located in every city and town across the country.
The Internet provides incredible benefits to our economy and to society at large. Policymakers must understand that our country, and the world, depends on a free Internet. As we approach another presidential election, the gold standard of democracy around the world, our message to both parties and both candidates is simple: The Internet is one of the greatest engines for economic growth, freedom and prosperity the world has ever known. The Internet Association, and millions of active users (and voters), stand ready to protect a free Internet and the innovation it fosters.
Michael Beckerman is the president and CEO of The Internet Association.