Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.
Court Upholds Net Neutrality. After months of deliberation, a U.S. Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to uphold the Federal Communication Commission's 2015 Open Internet Order. Engine and net neutrality advocates across the country celebrated the news, hailing the decision as a victory for thousands of startups that rely on the internet as a level playing field. Despite this affirmation of the FCC's authority to enforce net neutrality rules, the fight may not be over. The coalition of ISPs and cable companies who brought the case have already vowed to appeal it to the Supreme Court. Yet, whether the nation's highest court will choose to hear the case is unclear. As Politico points out, net neutrality is a "big issue in tech and telecom circles," however, "it's a relatively niche one by Supreme Court standard." The opposition’s best hope may be members of Congress, who just last week passed an appropriations bill out of committee that would hamper the FCC’s ability to enforce net neutrality.
Orlando Tragedy Reignites Encryption Debate. In the wake of Sunday’s horrific attack in Orlando, the encryption conversation in Washington is heating up again. While there is no indication at this point that encrypted technologies were used by the gunman, the tragedy has reignited conversations around the extent to which technology companies must assist law enforcement in unlocking encrypted phones or weakening encryption. In a frustrating step backwards, the House of Representatives voted on Thursday to block an amendment to the FY17 defense appropriations bill that would have prohibited the government from forcing companies to weaken encryption or build backdoors. While the same provision passed the House in both 2014 and 2015, opponents pointed to Sunday’s events to justify their objection and defeat the amendment.
CBC’s Efforts to Bring More African Americans into Tech. The Congressional Black Caucus has a new report out about the progress it’s made over the first year of its Tech2020 initiative. The caucus launched Tech2020 in May 2015 as an effort to bring together policymakers, non-profits, and industry groups to increase African American inclusion in the tech industry. Among other things, the CBC has called on tech companies to adopt a diversity and African American inclusion plan. Policy-wise, the caucus has supported President Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative and put forth measures to increase government funding and support for computer science education.
Tough Times for Startups? Two MIT economists have recently published a report sizing up the U.S. startup economy. Though the overall rates of American entrepreneurship have declined over the past few decades, the report explains that the rate of high-quality, high-growth firm formation is higher than ever. This is particularly important, because it's these kinds of firms that contribute significantly to U.S. job growth (as previous Engine research has also pointed out). However high rates of firm formation is just one part of their findings. The report also notes that startups aren't scaling and succeeding at quite the same rates. In the MIT Technology Review, one author concluded that "the increased power of established incumbents" may be to blame. "That means we don’t want the future of technology to depend on the investing decisions of a handful of giant companies...We want it to emerge out of a robust ecosystem of incumbents and startups." Sounds about right to us.
An Agenda for the Internet. Another group of digital advocacy organizations has released its 2016 platform for presidential candidates to consider. The "2016 Internet Policy Platform" outlines six major principles that "must guide any policymaking that affects the internet." They include free speech, access, choice, privacy, transparency and openness. Meanwhile, with the party’s nominees nearly decided, Engine took another look at the remaining candidates’ tech and startup policy agendas. So, who’s the candidate for tech? We broke down the issues, so you can decide for yourself.