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Postal, digital issues top ABM's '09 legislative list

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A new U.S. President, thousands of new faces throughout the government as a result of the change in administrations, and a stronger majority for the Democratic Party in Congress will affect the nation's capital in untold ways in the coming year. But what might the changes mean, specifically, for business publishers? Media Business interviewed one of American Business Media's key lobbyists, Thomas Carpenter of Wexler & Walker, and its lead counsel on postal issues, David Straus of Thompson Coburn, for their perspectives. MB: What are ABM's top priorities in Washington for 2009? Carpenter: As more and more ABM members have bigger presences on the Web, ABM has focused more on information policy and digital media policy. ABM's big issues are basically the same ones for 2009 as for 2008, which were privacy, piracy and 'Net neutrality. Our firm is working with ABM on the first two; ABM is working on 'Net neutrality on its own. Under the banner of privacy, ABM is watching the debate that's just taking shape in Congress over behavioral advertising, also called behavioral targeting, online. We think this issue will be on the front burner after the first six months of the Obama administration. ABM is focused on the benefits of behavioral advertising rather than the negatives. One of our key messages is that behavioral advertising allows more free content to be created and distributed. Another is that b-to-b advertising is very different from b-to-c. The audience has a different relationship and expectation in the relationship to a b-to-b site, versus a b-to-c site. Also, ABM members are willing to be transparent about how they collect and use personal information on their sites. Piracy is the unauthorized use of copyrighted material on the Internet or elsewhere. Business-to-business media companies have invested a lot of time and money into creating a product to go directly to their audiences, so no one else should put it up for free or use it without permission. Straus: ABM will be continuing to monitor 'Net neutrality in 2009. The concept behind 'Net neutrality is that operators of portals or connections to the Internet should not be able to discriminate among those seeking information from the Internet. MB: What is ABM watching on the postal front? Straus: Congress did pass a comprehensive postal reform bill in 2006, but the postal service's financial troubles are very serious. A key feature of postal reform law is a price cap that prohibits rate increases, but the law allows exceptions for exigent circumstances. Would the economic downturn qualify as exigent? We don't know. Another alternative is service cuts, which would not make ABM members happy. The postal service would like to extend the amortization period for fully funding health care for retirees from 10 years to 20 or 30 years. If that relieves some of the financial burden on the postal service [and avoids rate increases or service cuts], there's no reason why ABM or any other mailers would be against that. MB: How do you expect the shift in power from Republicans to Democrats to affect ABM in Washington? Carpenter: ABM will benefit from its reputation for being bipartisan. None of the shifts are catching ABM off guard or requiring a big change in how we do things. Part of our job is just keeping ABM visible. There is a lot to be said for creating relationships and informing Congress about what ABM members are doing, especially as so many new people come in with the administration change, and the members of various important Congressional committees change. M
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