Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.
Apple, Encryption, and the Future of Digital Security. This week’s federal court order that would require Apple to unlock an iPhone linked to last year’s San Bernardino attack has catapulted the debate over privacy, security, and encryption into the headlines of nearly every major news outlet in the U.S. and beyond. Evan takes a look at the ramifications of this case for startups and the tech industry, highlighting the complexity of the situation: “though the FBI’s request is tailored to investigating a specific terrorist activity, it will ultimately weaken security standards and may lead to serious vulnerabilities that will put countless consumers at risk.” Read the full post here.
MOBILE NOW Act. The battle between Democrats and Republicans over a Supreme Court nominee will not thwart Senate Commerce Committee plans to move the MOBILE NOW Act this year. The bipartisan bill, which was introduced last week by committee leaders, Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), aims to free up additional spectrum for commercial use and improve mobile infrastructure. “I see no reason that any nomination would affect consideration of the bill,” said a staffer for Sen. Thune. While this statement should be taken with a grain of salt (things haven’t exactly been moving quickly in Congress lately, even absent the escalating clash over Justice Scalia’s replacement), it is positive news for the startup community, which supports the bill. More broadly, the Chairman’s reaction signals that lawmakers aren’t ready to give up on 2016 quite yet. We’re hopeful…
Evaluating Startup Accelerators. Startup accelerators are on the rise: today over 170 accelerators support thousands of startups throughout the country. But are they effective? The results are inconclusive, explains researcher Ian Hathaway in a report for Brookings. The top accelerators do help early-stage companies hit key milestones at an accelerated rate. And those top programs even count some unicorns among their alumni. But not all accelerators are created equal. "Much research needs to be done to better understand the effectiveness of these programs and the broader impact they have on startup communities," writes Hathway, "particularly as national and regional authorities look to them as tools for economic growth."
Unlocking the Set-Top Box. In a move aimed at promoting innovation and consumer choice, the FCC voted on Thursday to propose rules that could increase competition in the set-top box market. Did you know that pay-TV subscribers spend an average of $231 per year to rent set-top boxes from their cable provider—something that arguably could be purchased outright from a third-party for much cheaper? The problem is that there are very few meaningful alternatives on the market. The FCC’s proposal aims to change this by establishing an open platform that would allow any set-top box to work on any cable network. So a startup could develop a new set-top box that allows consumers to watch live TV, binge on Netflix, and watch reruns of their favorite shows all on that one device that they paid for once. "Let's have the cable company say, 'You want to pay me for my interface, because it does all of these things nobody else does,' rather than, 'You must pay me,' " FCC Chairman Wheeler said. "We're just trying to get to that basic American concept of competition."
Casting Doubt on Bootcamp Placement Rates. In 2015, coding bootcamps graduated over 16 thousand students with newly minted, on-demand skills. That's a 138 percent increase from the previous year and enrollment rates continue to rise. These accelerated learning programs have become an increasingly popular pathway to tech jobs, or at least so they say: many bootcamps boast job placement rates above 90 percent. However, after a closer examination of those claims, the International Business Times is skeptical of these alluring figures: "Those claims are largely un-audited by third parties and based on differing standards." As the government explores offering federal student loans to cover these new programs, this news should be taken as "more evidence that giving these schools access to federal Title IV dollars is premature and will likely lead to waste and abuse," writes an education policy analyst at New America in a follow-up post. But even that conclusion seems hasty. Instead of interpreting these inconsistencies as harbingers of abuse and exploitation, policymakers should recognize more work needs to be done in order to develop reasonable standards and promote transparency as this market matures.
NYC University Welcomes Immigrant Entrepreneurs. The City University of New York is the latest academic institution welcoming immigrant entrepreneurs to campus. In a new program called IN2NYC, 80 foreign entrepreneurs will be selected to advise professors and students at the school while working to build their own startups. And they'll do this on H1-B visas sponsored by the university. While H1-B visas are capped at 65,000, leaving companies with foreign employees to compete in an annual lottery, academic institutions are exempt from that cap. The program will begin accepting applications from entrepreneurs this spring and begin in late fall.
Principles for Europe’s Digital Ambitions. Have you visited our new Medium publication yet? We’ve been exploring Europe’s efforts to remove regulatory barriers and better integrate the U.S. and EU digital economies through its Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy. Check out perspectives on the issue from the Internet Association, Re:Create, the Application Developers Alliance, the Information Technology Industry Council, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and check back for posts from more stakeholders over the coming weeks!