This past week was an interesting experience. My first trip to Washington DC on Washington business.
As part of the Association for Competitive Technology (http://www.actonline.com) I joined 27 other small software developer company owners from around the country to visit and educate congressional staffs.
I already knew 1/2 dozen of the people attending from my activities in the Microsoft developer community and had the pleasure of renewing friendships with them and making new friends with others. Lots of interesting stories from around the country.
One common thread is, no surprise, that mobile devices are exploding at a rapid pace and will dominate software development landscape for the foreseeable future.
The ACT “fly in” (common to all lobbyist groups) is a chance to get real world people in front of the congress people and their staff.
The first day was basically briefings on top issues, what to expect (a number of us were 1st timers) and some media training.
There were three major issues being covered… Internet Privacy, Intellectual Property and cellular bandwidth.
Although the topics were covered and discussed by the ACT leaders and staff, it was really up to each of us to come up with stories and what it meant to us personally and to our respective businesses.
The one that I was most interested in was the bandwidth question. I know how bad the cellular service can be, especially since I had to pull a number from Verizon to ATT last fall so I could get a Windows Phone 7. It is a very very fragile system, easily overloaded and broken by just a few dozen users at a particular location.
Within a few years, the majority of internet access will be via mobile devices and currently the US is ninth in mobile broadband adoption.
One interesting group there were a few developers / entrepreneurs associated with each other by an organization “Moms With Apps” (includes some Dad’s with Apps too), http://www.momswithapps.com.
On Tuesday we broke up into small teams. Typically 3 business people and 1 ACT person to visit various congressional offices. Each group was a different mix but one common thread was that there was a constituent of the congress person in each group. The last meeting our ACT “handler” did not show but by that time we were all pro’s and knew what to do.
For me, in all but one case, I met with legislative assistants. This makes sense anyway because in each office an assistant is assigned to be the expert in a particular area of legislation. I had six meetings, 2 senate and 4 house. Met with staff of Sen Kirk (R/IL), Sen Nelson (D/FL), Rep Hastings (D/FL), Rep Paulsen (R/MN), Rep Frelinghuysen (R/NJ) and one actual congressman, Brian Bilbray (R/CA). All the meetings went very well allowing us to discuss the issues, how they affected our businesses and what direction we would like to see the government take.
We also had a lunch with the “IP Caucus” (Intellectual Property) which is a group of congressional members, aids and lobbyists that are interested in how we can enforce copy write and patent protections across national borders. At least one of our group had a story of how popular his game is in chat rooms in China but has only sold one license there. These caucuses are similar to committee’s in that they have some dedicated staff to help them run.
I definitely learned a lot. All the congressional offices are very approachable. Appointments are needed but it is likely that if you want to take the time and effort any voter can get someone to listen to their story!!
I could also see evidence of many threads of relationships and coalitions that run throughout the congress, staffs and interested parties that shape our laws and regulations.
There was lots of food and socializing which allowed all of use to get to know the others.