The dynamics of a disturbance: New and established interests in technology policy debates


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The effects of technological change have political implications. A “disturbance,” such as the rise of the Internet as a mass medium, brings about new policy issues and establishes new interest organizations in the lobbying community. The differential
  The Dynamics of a Disturbance New and Established Interests in Technology Policy Debates Matt rossmann The effects of technological change have political implications. A disturbance, such as the rise of the Internet as a mass medium, brings about new policy issues and establishes new interest organizations in the lobbying community. The differ- ential mobilization of interests can affect the resolution of these policy issues. I combine face-to-face interviews with Washington representatives from organiza- tions involved in Internet policy debates with compiled data on the extent of their involvement to outline the difficulties that organizations face when building lobby- ing capacity, developing an agenda, and forming coalitions. The results indicate that new entrants face substantially more constraints than established interests and that these differences may affect policy outcomes. ntroduction David Truman inaugurated the modern study of interest groups with his theory that socioeconomic disturbances change the structure of the interest group envi- ronment. After debunking the notion that group mobilization is an automatic re- sponse to such change, modern interest group scholars have de-emphasized socioeconomic explanations for group mobilization. Academic observers of tech- nological change and policy development, meanwhile, have focused on how economic group structure and public policy co-evolve without analyzing the inter- mediary influence of the mobilization process on policy outcomes. What is most present in one academic sector, therefore, is most absent in the other. Technology policy scholars need to understand how technological change and policy change are related through the behavior of affected organized interests. Interest group scholars, in contrast, need to be attentive to the broader context of socioeconomic Matt Grossmann is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He formerly served as Research Director for the California Commission on Internet Political Prac- tices. He may be reached at <>. Knowledge, Technology, Policy, Fall 2005, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 95-113.  96 Knowledge, Technology, Policy / Fall 2005 change that generates both new policy issues and participation by new interest organizations. This paper begins that research agenda by exploring strategic and organizational changes in interest organizations affected by the rise of the Internet as a mass me- dium. I ask how these organizations reacted to the new policy issues and the asso- ciated mobilization of new interests. I use Truman's idea of a 'disturbance' as a sensitizing concept to develop a theory of organizational response to uncertain technology policy environments. I illustrate the challenges faced by all interests affected by new issues but then argue that these challenges are not equally distrib- uted across all organizations; new entrants created by technological change face substantially more difficulty than established interests. Theoretical Background and Hypotheses I build on four areas of previous work: (1) research on new interest group mobi- lization from macro-level socioeconomic change, (2) studies of cross-sectional differences in industry political activity, (3) theories of organizational uncertainty in environments of technological change, and (4) research on the particular charac- teristics of the Internet policy environment. Interest group scholars have long been concerned with how new groups mobilize to participate in the Washington policy debate. Truman (1951) argues that socioeconomic change provides the context for interest group organization, especially through technological evolution. Loomis and Cigler (1998) demonstrate that economic and social changes are prominent explanations in current research on new interest mobilization. Gray and Lowery (1996), for example, show that socioeconomic variables affect the entry and exit of interest groups in state lobbying environments. They later formulate a model to extend Truman's theory: [Our] model of interest system density reflects in many ways the core ideas underlying Truman's disturbance theory of mobilization. That is, when policy problems of concern to potential lobbying organizations develop, uncertainty over government policy increases. Large numbers of policy opponents then mobilize Technological change not only produces new participants in the policy debate but also affects their organization and tactics. Salamon and Siegfried (1977) indi- cate that industries with different technological structures differ in their level of political involvement and in their effectiveness. Grier, Munger, and Roberts (1994) show that corporate lobbying activity varies in response to both industry-level and corporation-level economic concerns. Hansen and Mitchell (2000) argue that in- dustries with different economic incentives pursue divergent strategies of influ- ence. If technological change disrupts the structure of industry and the political incentives of industry actors, therefore, we should expect the lobbying environ- ment to undergo a similar transformation. Organizational theorists study the effect of technological change on organiza- tional adaptation. Thompson (1967) outlines the methods that organizations use to restructure in the face of technological change. Miles and Snow (1978) argue that basic organizational strategy changes in response to technological uncertainty. Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) demonstrate that an organization's technology affects its flexibility and dependence on outsiders. La Porte (1994) argues that the same is  Grossmann 9 true of public organizations: technological uncertainty affects how policymakers design agencies and how easily they can adjust to address new concerns. Interest organizations should face constraints similar to those encountered by other organizations. The literature on the public policy implications of technology includes many references to the specific challenges posed by the rise of the Internet. Lessig (1999) argues that Internet policy raises unique concerns for policymakers because early policy decisions will lock in particular technologies. Bar (2001) argues that tnternet policy decisions will create the parameters for future market competition. In a review of Internet policy decisions thus far, Samuelson and Varian (2001) demonstrate that policymakers face unforeseen challenges and rely on advice from interest organizations. Policy studies therefore suggest that the structure of the interest group environment has major implications for policy development. I combine these four research trajectories here. The rise of the Internet is the major recent example of a technological disturbance that produced new industries and forced existing organizations in many sectors to reevaluate their interests. It also created new policy issues by developing new product markets, new forms of economic exchange, and new social concerns. This study surveys how interest or- ganizations adapted to the uncertainty of this technological change; I emphasize differences in organization and strategy, especially among newcomers and estab- lished interests. I address several rapidly evolving and crucial policy areas. Rather than provide policy advice, however, I use ideas from organizational theory and results from interest group research to describe and explain the mobilization pat- terns around these policy debates. According to scholars of business and government agencies, organizations will have difficulty reaching internal consensus and responding to outside institutions when faced with uncertainty over their goals, their options, and their shared inter- ests with outsiders. Technological change is a primary instigator of uncertainty within organizations. As organizations receive new signals about their technologi- cal environment, their leaders will learn to adapt their internal structure and exter- nal posture. Over time, organizations will become more adept at responding to new uncertainty arising in their environment by searching for new competitive strategies, organizational innovations, and outside alliances (see Thompson, 1967; Miles & Snow, 1978; Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978; La Porte, 1994). I therefore hypothesize that all interest organizations will face substantial con- straints when building lobbying capacity and expertise in response to Internet policy issues, clarifying their issue portfolio and primary agenda, and forming coalitions around their new lobbying programs. In both building lobbying capacity and form- ing coalitions, however, I hypothesize that new entrants will face more types of constraints and greater overall strain than established interests. As a result, organi- zations formed in response to Internet policy issues will not adapt as effectively to influence new policy outcomes. My analysis proceeds as follows. First, I explain my research design and proce- dure. I then provide the results of my investigation into the constraints faced by interest organizations in three areas of behavior: (1) whether and how organiza- tions built lobbying capacity and internal expertise in reaction to new issues, (2) how interest organizations clarified their issue agenda and added new issues to  98 Knowledge, Technology, Policy / Fall 2005 their portfolios, and 3) how interest organizations located allies and formed coali- tions around their new lobbying programs. Finally, I address the potential policy implications of how interest groups react to these challenges by reviewing the lob- bying history of three prominent Internet policy areas. Data and Method I combine 27 structured interviews with personnel from corporate policy of- rices, trade associations, and public interest groups with case studies of interest group involvement in the development of three policy issues. The population under study is interest organizations involved in Internet policy advocacy in Washington. I use a random sample of organizations in the Congressional Internet Caucus Ad- visory Committee. Members of this committee participate in planning hearings on Internet policy issues in Washington and receive information from a bicameral organization of Members of Congress with an interest in Internet policy. Exclud- ing law offices, public relations firms, foundations, vendors of the Caucus, and organizations without a Washington office, the population includes 142 organiza- tions. From this list, I randomly selected 43 organizations and completed inter- views with representatives from 23 of these organizations in July and August of 2003. The sample has 9 companies, 8 trade associations, and 6 public interest groups. It includes 9 new organizations formed in response to the rise of the Internet and 14 established interests. I selected one informant from each organization for a face-to-face interview; each informant held a decision-making leadership position and was knowledge- able about the history of their organization. I also conducted four face-to-face in- terviews with participants in multiple organizations that were not included in the sample but were involved in all major Internet policy issues; they provided general comments about the field of interest organizations involved in these issues. The informants and are not identified here because I guaranteed anonymity but I pro- vide a list of the included organizations in an appendix. For organizations in the sample, I coded whether informants mentioned any constraints faced by their orga- nization in responding to Internet policy issues and any mention of the strategies the organization used to adapt to new issues. Respondents mentioned 23 different challenges or new strategies. I also collected supplementary data on their staff size, the outside lobbyists that they retained, and any contributions from their Political Action Committees. Using the interviews as well as news coverage and committee hearing transcripts, I developed case histories of interest group involvement in three policy areas: 1) online copyright protection and digital piracy, 2) broadband deployment competi- tion policy, and 3) online information collection and data privacy. These issues arose as a consequence of the widespread use of the Internet and involve many different types of organized interests, including those that did not arise prior to the growth of the Internet. They each continue as an ongoing policy debates but their histories feature early consequential policy decisions. The case studies include com- ments by informants about how their organization responded to these issues and compiled data on how many times organizations in the sample were mentioned in  Grossmann related Congressional testimony 1 and in relevant articles in the Washington Con- gressional media. 2 I rely primarily on a combination of qualitative evidence, including quotations from interviews and descriptive statistics. For the reader's reference, I also provide initial statistical analysis. For continuous dependent variables, I use a two-sample t-test to establish significant differences between new and established organiza- tions. For dichotomous measures, I use a likelihood ratio qui square test, which is similar to a logit model with only one independent variable. The analysis is vulner- able to criticism given the small-n nature of the project but the statistical results are also remarkable given the low statistical power of the tests. ~ Lobbying Capacity and Expertise The first requirement for building the capacity to influence policy is the recog- nition that participation is necessary. Technology organizations generally have been slow to this realization, according to one informant: This is an industry that hates Washington and hates public policy... [but] many more people in the [Internet] industry now understand that for better or worse, they are in this parade. The choice is whether they want to be riding the elephant or behind the elephant cleaning up. One lobbyist explained how the initial anti-Washington approach worked to their detriment: The 'we're different from the rest of the world' theme was never going to work. Politics is about personal relationships and you have to be just as much of a presence as in any other industry.., there's no special rules for the Internet when it comes to Washington--it is not outside of the law like used to believe. Getting off the ground in Washington policy advocacy and political relations is difficult for new organizations, one lobbyist noted: Just as the company's busi- ness plan is evolving and changing.., you learn and grow in Washington to real- ize that it's not just about policy. It's a very political town.., building better relationships is something that's beginning to happen. Before, it was strictly policy because with one person that's all you have time to do .... I wouldn't say we've arrived but we've made progress. One informant explained that before establish- ing their own offices, new organizations go through a multi-step process of getting connected to Washington: The first tier is the lobbying firms; the companies that do not even know where the capitol is on a map hire outside counsel from the specialist firms. The second tier is trade associations with a technology focus; they shop around to find the right one. [Only] as the third step do they go to specialist Internet organizations. Another lobbyist indicated that the initial mobilization of new interests was led by Washington lobbyists rather than by corporations: We called the meeting, we recruited the companies and we told them about how they were getting killed by industries that didn't want them to exist. Without a Washington presence, the likelihood of success is low. Without an office, there is a tendency for issues to fall off the radar screen, an informant said, [Some Internet companies had] only the general counsel who was trying to multitask. One trade association representative said that joining a coalition is not as valuable without an independent office: People who have a Washington office typically have a mind of their own; they are much more sophisticated and want to
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