Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.
India Rules on Net Neutrality. Major tech policy news from India this week, where the country's telecom regulatory authority (TRAI) effectively banned free, but limited Internet services. Such "zero-rating" programs violate net neutrality principles, TRAI announced. The decision means Facebook can no longer operate Free Basics in India, a mobile platform that offers a small set of online services, including the Facebook app, at no cost to users through an arrangement with an Indian telecom partner. Free Basics has been the subject of controversy, in India especially, for months now. Net neutrality advocates, including Indian startups, argue Facebook and other major companies shouldn’t determine which services get preferential treatment through subsidized data plans. Yet others contend these programs simply increase Internet access in a country where only 27 percent of the population is online.
Unpacking the President’s Budget Request. On Tuesday, President Obama sent his final budget request to Congress. While the proposal was declared “dead on arrival” by Republican lawmakers, it lays the groundwork for future policies and represents a roadmap for the next Administration to espouse or eschew. In a blog post this week, Emma highlights the reasonable policies and programs in the request that would support innovation and entrepreneurship—everything from creating a $4 billion Computer Science for All initiative to simplifying our tax code to make it work better for startups. Read the full post here.
Finally, a Pro-Encryption Bill. On Wednesday, Representatives Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX) introduced legislation that would prohibit states from mandating backdoors in encrypted technologies. As we’ve noted before, backdoors are not only constitutionally questionable, but also not technologically feasible without undermining the security of the system as a whole. In recent weeks, state lawmakers in both California and New York have introduced bills that would prohibit the sale of encrypted devices that cannot be unlocked. The tech community and privacy advocates welcomed Reps. Lieu and Farenthold’s bill, although some warned it may not completely squash the state proposals. According to Amie Stepanovich at Access Now, "Proposals in New York and California are aimed at preventing the sale of devices with strong encryption. Rep. Lieu's bill only mandates limits on design or alteration of devices or products." Still, the federal proposal is a step in the right direction.
Feds OK Driverless Cars sans Humans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has told Google that federal law will not require a licensed human driver be present in autonomous vehicles. This is good news for Google and other driverless car manufacturers building vehicles intended to operate without humans entirely, at least some of the time. Google has even expressed to regulators that the real danger is having safety features that “tempt humans to take control.” Just a few months ago, California proposed draft rules requiring steering wheels and a licensed driver in all self-driving cars. Perhaps this move by the federal government will prompt California lawmakers to reconsider their proposal.
Judicial Redress Act Passes Congress. Congress finally passed the Judicial Redress Act this week, sending it on to President Obama for his signature. The bill, which would extend rights to judicial redress to citizens of the EU and other designated countries, has been integral to the debate around an updated safe harbor agreement. The long-awaited passage of the bill will hopefully help get the new U.S.-EU Privacy Shield across the finish line.
Principles for Europe’s Digital Ambitions. Last year, the European Commission released a public consultation focused on online platforms and intermediaries (e.g. search engines, social networks, collaborative economy platforms, etc.) as a part of its broader Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy. The DSM effort aims to remove regulatory barriers across European states to better integrate the U.S. and EU digital economies. However, the consultation appears to depart from this worthy objective, contemplating proposals that would create new burdens on startups and shrink existing intermediary liability safe harbors. American business, Internet, and public interest stakeholders weighed in on the consultation, raising some of these concerns. In a new Medium publication, Principles for Europe’s Digital Ambitions, we will be featuring posts from these commenters over the coming weeks. Read Evan’s inaugural post summarizing broad concerns here, and follow the publication for updates as the DSM conversation in Europe evolves.
Startups Caught in Immigration Limbo. The "immigration limbo" is an "all-too common phenomenon among U.S. tech startups," reports Bloomberg Business this week in a profile of several immigrant entrepreneurs and the obstacles they face in building companies in the U.S. Due to visa limitations, startup founders and employees often shuffle back and forth between their home countries and the U.S. Others are forced to return home permanently, establishing their companies elsewhere. And for those immigrants who do acquire the appropriate visas, that's often after months of paperwork as well as legal fees and other expenses that can add up to over $10,000. Without meaningful immigration reform, this state of affairs is the norm. Meanwhile, countries such as Chile and Australia are attracting global talent with special visas and tax breaks, essentially trying to "capitalize on the U.S.’s foot-dragging."