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Tech Industry

E-commerce group turns up volume in D.C.

NetChoice, which counts eBay and Orbitz among its ranks, is looking to fight against regulation that would stifle e-commerce competition.

eBay and newly launched Web travel agency Orbitz are among a band of Web merchants that have formed a lobbyist group to seek a greater voice in Washington, D.C.

The group, NetChoice, which launched Wednesday in the nation's capital, said its mission is to defend Web businesses "against efforts to stifle Internet-based competition with protectionist legislation or regulation."

At a time when companies in online industries like personal finance and travel are snatching larger market share from the offline leaders, NetChoice members say that some "threatened middlemen" have sought to use the law to block their online competitors.

"Policy-makers at all levels of government need to resist the pressure," said Robert Atkinson, vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a research and education organization for progressive politics.

Backed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Ill., the group has enlisted support from trade groups like the Electronic Commerce Association and the Electronic Retailers Association.

But while Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology, an advocacy group for online shoppers, said consumers deserved to choose from as many competitors as possible, it also noted that in many cases, the government had "bona fide consumer protection issues" for setting rules and regulations.

"On the one hand, the Internet guys want equal access to the marketplace and don't want the government to interfere," said Jamie Love, director of the CPT. "But then, on the other, they don't hesitate to press the government to protect such things as technology patents, which hurts competition."

On its Web site, NetChoice linked to news stories about old-line companies attempting to persuade lawmakers to take action against Internet competitors.

One news story chronicled a fight in the mortgage lending business, and another outlined the struggle between online and offline shipping companies.

E-commerce advocates say liquor, real estate and auctions are also among the industries that are handicapped online by laws or regulations.

For example, some states are considering whether to force auctioneers to register with the state--including those who sell via eBay. This makes it difficult for some sellers, eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.

"NetChoice will act as a counterpoint to some state and national laws that may undermine the growth of e-commerce," Pursglove said.

Almost 40 states have banned direct shipments of alcohol under laws going back to the end of Prohibition, according to those in the industry.