President Trump hosted “Tech Week” this week at the White House. Events held earlier in the week included a meeting with tech company CEOs to discuss a number of policy issues including cybersecurity, tax reform, and updating the government’s technology. CEOs from 18 leading tech companies attended including Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Intel. Later in the week, the White House held meetings with investors and executives to discuss emerging technologies like drones, 5G wireless expansion, and artificial intelligence.
Tech Stages Internet Day of Action for Net Neutrality. In response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent announcement that it intends to roll back Obama-era open internet protections, a number of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Etsy, Amazon, Mozilla, and Kickstarter, have publicly announced that they will hold a national day of action in protest. On July 12, the companies, along with numerous other organizations (including Engine), will change their websites to bring awareness to the FCC’s attempts to undermine the free and open internet. At stake are the rules implemented under a Tom Wheeler-led FCC in 2015 that prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling internet users. The effort is reminiscent of the wide-scale internet blackout orchestrated by tech companies in protest against SOPA and PIPA in January of 2012, which would have resulted in significant censorship on the internet. If you or your company are interested in participating, you can sign up here.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took the first official step in eliminating existing net neutrality protections this week. In a 2-1 party-line vote, the Commission adopted Chairman Ajit Pai’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which would reverse the 2015 Open Internet Order and the agency’s Title II classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In a statement reacting to the vote, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Any effort to undermine existing net neutrality rules would greatly harm the startup ecosystem...We must not remain silent. Now is the time for the startup community to galvanize around meaningful protections.” Y Combinator founder Sam Altman echoed this sentiment in a Wired op-ed published the same day as the vote, arguing that startup founders have a duty to fight for net neutrality. “Without strong net neutrality rules...the cable and wireless companies that control internet access will have outsized power to pick winners and losers in the market,” he writes. The FCC’s vote initiates a public comment period of 90 days.
On Tuesday, President Trump shocked the country by firing FBI director James Comey. The broader population probably knows Comey best as a result of his decision to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server just days before the general election. But Comey was an especially contentious figure within the tech community due to his broader pro-surveillance and anti-encryption stances and last year’s very public confrontation with Apple over the unlocking of an iPhone used during the San Bernardino terrorist attack. And while Director Comey’s relationship with tech companies during his time in leadership could best be described as tumultuous, it is unlikely that the President will appoint someone with a friendlier approach. During his time on the campaign trail, President Trump blasted tech giant Apple over its unwillingness to enable a backdoor for government on encrypted devices in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting.
On Wednesday morning, more than 800 startups, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurial support organizations from all 50 states joined Engine, Y Combinator, and Techstars in sending a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to protect a free and open internet. As we note in the letter, the success of America’s startup ecosystem depends on strong, enforceable net neutrality rules. Any effort to roll back these rules would allow for discrimination and impede entrepreneurs’ ability to grow their companies, reach customers, and compete with incumbents. Rather than dismantling the existing net neutrality framework, signatories called on Chairman Pai to “focus instead on policies that would promote a stronger Internet for everyone,” such as removing unnecessary barriers to construction of new networks. Read the full letter and add your company’s name here.
Engine released a report on Wednesday highlighting the ways in which startups are capitalizing on Big Data to solve some of society’s biggest challenges. The paper also offers insights for policymakers seeking to foster innovation and social transformation while maintaining sufficient protections for the American public. To celebrate the report’s publication, Engine hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill, which was headlined by Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA). They were joined by a distinguished panel of policy analysts and startup leaders from ITIF, FarmLogs, and LendUp. Panelists explained how the convergence of multiple datasets is really what drives insights, even more than the size of a single dataset. The also argued that the data generated and shared by the government should be high quality, interoperable, and widely available to entrepreneurs.
Congress Talks Self-Driving Cars. As autonomous vehicles increasingly move from the realm of science fiction to literally hitting the pavement, policymakers are grappling with a broad range of issues presented by these new technologies, including safety, security, liability, and ethics. On Tuesday, Congress had the opportunity to dive deeper on some of these topics, as the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee convened a hearing on self-driving vehicles that included panelists from GM, Toyota, Volvo, Lyft, and the RAND Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty. The participating industry giants called on Congress to relax existing safety regulations, such as the requirement that any vehicle have both a steering wheel and floor pedals, which they argued currently limit innovation. They also noted that the existing patchwork of state laws was stifling growth (Lyft called out California’s proposed laws in particular) and urged policymakers to do more to explicitly limit the ability of states to legislate on this emerging technology. To coincide with the hearing, several members highlighted efforts to improve regulatory flexibility for the industry (including potential legislation from Sens. John Thune and Gary Peters), and there will most certainly be more to come.
Today, we’re launching #StartupsEverywhere, a campaign celebrating the diverse, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are taking root in every corner of the country. The project will showcase exciting developments in a variety of rising startup communities through weekly interviews with startup ecosystem leaders. The profiles will look at issues ranging from the challenges faced by these communities to the unique qualities that set them apart from traditional technology hubs. Look out for our first profile this coming Wednesday, and stay tuned for a new featured community every week.
Last year saw a number of notable moments in startup and technology policy: investment crowdfunding went live, net neutrality survived a court challenge, drones took the the skies, encryption dominated headlines, the Copyright Office reviewed the DMCA, and much more. Over the last two weeks, we have been recapping these top issues and looking at how they could be impacted in 2017 on our blog. Read all of the posts here, and stay up to date with these topics and more by signing up for our monthly newsletter.
In 2016, disruptive technologies increasingly permeated every aspect of our lives: commercial drones took to the skies, self-driving cars hit the streets around the country, and artificial intelligence technologies proliferated. In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, policymakers launched a number of constructive efforts to grapple with the significant potential impacts of emerging technologies.
A Big Year for Startup Policy in 2016. The Startup News Digest will be taking a hiatus over the holidays, but you can still get your startup policy fill on our blog. Yesterday, we began publishing Year in Review posts on some of 2016’s most notable debates in tech and entrepreneurship. Watch this space for reports on capital access, intellectual property, net neutrality, emerging technologies, and more over the coming days. Thanks for all of your support in 2016, and we’ll catch you in the new year!
Tech Meets with Trump. Following on the heels of weeks of meetings for the President-elect, Donald Trump met with 14 executives from the tech community at Trump Tower on Wednesday. Prior to this meeting, relations between the Trump team and Silicon Valley had been frosty, at best. During the course of his campaign, Trump called for many policies that the technology community found threatening, including trade restrictions, stricter immigration policy, and “closing that internet up.” Despite this, many attendees from both camps left the meeting optimistic. Chief Executive Officer of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, a favorite target of Trump during the election said, “I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere.” Among the items discussed at the meeting was the aforementioned job creation, China, tax reform, education, and infrastructure. Mr. Trump summed up his feelings towards the group saying, “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There’s nobody like you in the world.”
DC Grapples with IoT Cybersecurity. The Internet of Things (IoT) has grown exponentially in recent years: there are now approximately 6.4 billion internet connected devices worldwide, a number that is increasing by 5.5 million every single day. While the growing IoT holds tremendous potential, recent cyberattacks have left policymakers increasingly concerned over vulnerabilities in connected devices. On Tuesday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a set of guidelines on IoT cybersecurity, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its own policy principles for securing connected devices. The following day, policymakers on the Hill held a joint hearing to discuss security and cyberattacks on the IoT. There was consensus among panelists around the importance of standards and guidelines like those released by the Administration earlier in the week. However, there was disagreement over whether formal regulations are necessary. While one participant called for government intervention, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who chaired the hearing, noted that regulations would be a "knee-jerk reaction" to recent attacks. We’re tracking.
For years, the startup and tech communities have been advocating for a pathway that would encourage the most promising immigrant entrepreneurs to start and scale their companies in the U.S. While no program currently allows for this, a recent proposal from the White House could change that. The International Entrepreneur Rule, proposed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in August, will allow qualifying foreign entrepreneurs to live in the U.S. to build their startup for up to five years. On Monday, Engine and New York-based technology trade group Tech:NYC submitted comments supporting the rule and recommending a number of targeted modifications, which we believe will allow the Rule to have an even greater positive impact. You can learn more and read the full comments here.
An Engine-championed bill that would make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options cleared important hurdles in Congress this week. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Empowering Employees Through Stock Options Act, and a companion bill cleared the Senate Finance Committee earlier in the week. Even with partisan divisions higher than usual in this contentious election year, Democrats and Republicans came together to support EESO, passing the bill unanimously in the Senate Finance Committee and with substantial bipartisan support in the House. As we’ve written in the past, because employees exercising certain types of stock options must pay an immediate tax upon exercise (even though there is no public market on which to sell some of the newly acquired shares to pay the tax), startup employees are often unable to purchase their shares, making it difficult for startups to attract and compensate top talent. EESO allows employees to defer the tax payment on options for seven years or until the underlying shares are actually sold, providing workers with the flexibility they need to realize the value of their contributions to their companies. We are hopeful that the full Senate will consider the bill as expeditiously as possible so that it can head to the President’s desk before the end of his term.
Never a fan of net neutrality, AT&T has upped the ante on controversial zero-rating programs, announcing a new program this week that will allow subscribers to stream video from DirectTV (a company AT&T owns) without consuming data under the company’s data caps. This means that AT&T is giving preferential treatment to its own data and putting all other video providers at a clear competitive disadvantage. While other programs like T-Mobile’s BingeOn service have tried to avoid the most egregious net neutrality violations by allowing any video service to participate in the zero-rating program without payment, AT&T’s program seems to directly implicate the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order.
Engine is looking for startups, entrepreneurs, and the organizations that support them to sign our letter telling Congress that startups care about broadband competition. Startups, businesses, and other institutions often need significantly more internet bandwidth than consumers use at home, so they rely on what are known as “business data services” (BDS) to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity. Unfortunately, the BDS market is dominated by a few broadband gatekeepers that distort the market and jack up prices for startups and other customers. But that could change soon: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is in the process of a rulemaking that will introduce competition and lower prices in the BDS market.
Last Friday, Engine submitted comments to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on questions presented by the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. We highlighted the innovation being driven by AI startups across the U.S. and asked that policymakers keep this tremendous potential in mind when approaching AI. The policies pursued today will directly impact the future ability of the U.S. to remain a global leader in the emerging field of AI, and as such, policymakers should establish a legal framework that encourages innovation and growth.
As the Republican National Convention kicked off this week, GOP leaders released the final draft of their party platform. The platform included a commitment to several issues important to the tech industry, such as expanding broadband access and pushing back against over-regulation, as well as a nod to startups and small businesses by supporting an expansion of tax deductions for startup and small business expenses. The GOP also reaffirmed their commitment to digital privacy rights and called for a resolution to the ongoing encryption debate, though they declined to take a firm stand on the issue. Unfortunately, the party reiterated their ardent opposition to net neutrality, and language in the platform on high-skilled immigration reform and LGBT issues will likely disappoint the tech community.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalized its long-awaited small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rules on Tuesday, making it much easier for businesses to use drones for new and innovative commercial purposes. These rules provide much-needed clarity for the emerging drone industry and put the U.S. ahead of most countries, though significant gaps in the regulatory framework remain.