Our Weekly Take on Some of the Biggest Stories in Startup and Tech Policy.
Democrats Release Final Party Platform. Three weeks ago, Engine took a look at how the Democratic Party’s draft platform would impact the tech and startup communities. This week, the party released their final platform to coincide with the beginning of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Building on their draft, Democrats committed to rolling out broadband to every American and added language around the deployment of next-generation 5G technologies and free, public Wi-Fi. Some changes were made around encryption as well. While the initial draft did not even mention the issue, the final platform pledged support for a “national commission” on encryption, an idea that has been championed by Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Michael McCaul. Democrats also re-affirmed a commitment to defending net neutrality and increasing public investment in infrastructure and R&D. Unfortunately, the final platform glossed over high-skilled immigration reform, a key ask from the tech community to help address a shortage of high-skilled talent.
Also at the DNC: Airbnb and Uber. As tens of thousands of people descended on Philadelphia for the DNC, sharing economy giants Uber and Airbnb also made appearances. Convention VIPs relied on Uber for complimentary rides around city and Airbnb projected that 7,000 people would use the platform during their stay in Philly. Both companies also hosted panels (and parties) to educate DNC attendees about their services and their popularity with millennials, a core constituency of the Democratic Party. Their main message? “You ought to be talking about the sharing economy.” These efforts come as Uber and Airbnb are facing increased scrutiny from local, state, and federal officials. While the companies are working to solidify relationships with lawmakers, they are also pushing the message that the benefits of those relationships run both ways, arguing that young people could punish politicians who don't get on board with the sharing economy.
Privacy Shield Here to Stay, For Now. Earlier this month, the European Commission approved the new EU-U.S. Privacy Shield data transfer framework, which allows for companies to legally move EU data across the Atlantic. The startup community celebrated this decision and the much-needed certainty it provides. However, questions lingered around how the EU data protection authorities (DPAs), who had previously expressed concerns with the agreement, would react. Some clarity came this week when the Article 29 Working Group (comprised of the DPAs from the 28 EU member states) announced they would withhold judgment of the new framework for at least a year. Still, the DPAs’ decision does not rule out the possibility that another organization or individual will challenge the new agreement in court. But at least for now, that challenge won’t be coming from a DPA.
T-Mobile, Pokémon Go, and Net Neutrality. Two of the most prominent topics in pop culture and telecom policy collided earlier this month when T-Mobile announced that it would allow its users to play Pokémon Go without incurring data charges—also known as “zero-rating.” T-Mobile has experience with zero-rating with its Music Freedom and BingeOn programs, which exempt qualifying music and video applications, respectively, from customer data caps. Though not universally supported in tech policy circles, Music Freedom and BingeOn are at least open at no cost to any music or video platform that wishes to be a part of the program. But, T-Mobile’s decision to zero-rate Pokémon Go presents more serious problems. Any company wishing to launch a mobile video game that competes with Pokémon Go would be at a significant disadvantage, as users would be on the hook for the data they consume. This raises some of the same competitive concerns as the so-called “paid prioritization” schemes at the heart of the recent net neutrality fight. While the FCC’s net neutrality rules don’t explicitly bar zero-rating, the Commission has said it will examine such programs on a case-by-case basis. We’re keeping an eye on whether they “Pika-choose” to take a closer look at this new arrangement or not.
NVCA Report on Diversity. This time last year, 45 venture capital leaders made a commitment to President Obama to advance opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. On Wednesday, these leaders, as a part of the National Venture Capital Association’s (NVCA) Diversity Task Force, released a report outlining their progress so far. The report highlights specific actions taken by a number of firms, as well as a broader shift in the conversation and recognition that the status quo must change. While the NVCA hasn’t set specific diversity goals, they plan to release the results of a survey of diversity across startups, VC firms, accelerators, and others later this fall. All of this represents a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done, especially around VC funding for women- and minority-led startups (less than 5 percent of VC financing goes to female, African-American, and Latino founders combined).
Heading West with Rise of the Rest. Engine will be hitting the road again this October for Revolution’s fifth Rise of the Rest tour. Rise of the Rest is a road show to highlight and support entrepreneurship across America. Over the past four tours, we’ve had the chance to see thriving startup ecosystems in places like Baltimore, Nashville, and Detroit. This time around, we’ll be visiting five states west of the Mississippi, starting in Lincoln/Omaha and making our way through Denver, Salt Lake City/Provo, Albuquerque, and Phoenix. Learn more about the tour here.