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 Tuesday, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) revealed the committee’s top tech priorities for this Congress. Among the issues he hopes to address are encryption and surveillance, as well as high skilled immigration. On immigration, he suggested that too many green cards were being given to family members of current U.S. residents, instead of going to skilled laborers. He told reporters that his goal was to “find a balanced solution to increase the high-skilled talent pool to promote job growth through visa and green card reforms,” and to protect “job opportunities for similarly qualified Americans.”
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.
On April 26, 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.
On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating the Administration’s policy to buy and hire American. On the ‘Hire American’ side, the EO directs federal agencies to evaluate the various programs that allow foreign workers to enter the United States, with a particular focus on the H-1B visa program. While the EO will not have a direct, immediate impact on the H-1B program, it brings new scrutiny to a visa category relied on heavily by the tech and startup communities. In a statement responding to the EO, Engine Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, called on the the Administration to consider the concerns of the startup community when reviewing and reforming the program: “[I]t is essential that they take into account the economic realities of the startup ecosystem and work to craft reform policies that do not inadvertently make it harder for startups to hire the talented workers they need.”
Last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai floated a proposal during a meeting with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that would roll back the net neutrality rules put in place by the previous Administration and replace them with “voluntary” commitments from ISPs. The proposal would completely undermine the Open Internet Order that the startup community backed in 2015, and Engine has put together a startup letter in conjunction with Y Combinator to push back, telling FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that any efforts to undo net neutrality will threaten startups’ ability to innovate and thrive. Learn more and sign the letter here.
Engine Examines the Limits of Filtering. In a congressional briefing on Tuesday, Engine Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, and Princeton University professor Nick Feamster introduced the report they co-authored exploring various content filtering technologies and the impact that their mandatory application could have on startups. Feamster, a computer scientist, explained the primary modes of filtering and each of their shortcomings in identifying copyright infringing material. Engstrom addressed the implications for startups if policymakers moved to require the use of these technologies. Not only would companies suffer because of the limited ability of the current methods to accurately filter infringing content, he said, but they would also be unable to pay the extremely high price required for full-scale operation of the filtering technology. The full report, which elaborates on the speakers’ remarks, can be found 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.
On Tuesday, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs. In a statement, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Beyond the obvious harm these policies would have on refugees, immigrants, and the U.S.'s standing in the world community, we wanted to make sure the President understood that these policies would have a major detrimental impact on entrepreneurship and innovation.” Signatories ranged from early-stage startups like NourishWise in Nashville, TN and WorkHound in Des Moines, IA, to later-stage companies like Pinterest, General Assembly, and Vimeo. The letter was also signed by almost 100 individual investors, including Ron Conway, Dave McClure, Venky Ganesan, Jeff Clavier, and William H. Draper III.
The net neutrality debate that dominated tech headlines in 2014 and 2015 was once again the top telecom issue in 2016, peaking in June with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision to uphold the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order. The telecom excitement didn’t end there, as policymakers dealt with a huge number of issues related to promoting telecom competition; preparing for a wireless, connected future; and building out broadband access in underserved parts of the country. In short, the momentum in 2015 carried over into 2016 in a big way. Looking ahead, 2017 is poised to be yet another busy year in telecom policy, though the impact of an incoming Trump Administration still remains uncertain.
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.”
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his plans to step down from the agency on January 20, 2017. The following statement can be attributed to Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom: “In his time at the helm of the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler has been a tireless champion for startups and innovators everywhere, and Engine is grateful for his service.
Change in Leadership at the Copyright Office. Last Friday, Maria Pallante was removed from her post as Register of the Copyright Office by the new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. While Pallante was reassigned as a senior advisor on digital strategy, she formally declined the new position, resigning from the Office on Monday. As the 12th Register, Pallante was both a vocal advocate of separating the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress and an early supporter of SOPA—two policies strongly opposed by the startup and tech communities, as well as public interest groups. The abrupt change-up has sent shockwaves through both the tech and entertainment industries, and many believe it is a foreshadowing of the larger copyright reform debate that is expected to occur early in the next Congress. 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.
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.
For years, the startup community has been calling for reforms to our immigration system that would allow immigrant entrepreneurs to build their companies in the U.S. It’s a no brainer, especially in light of the fact that more than half of the current group of U.S.-based “unicorns” (startups valued at more than $1 billion) have a foreign-born founder. While reforms in Congress have stalled, the Administration is proposing a new International Entrepreneur Rule that will allow foreign entrepreneurs to live in the U.S. for up to five years to help scale their business. To be eligible, the entrepreneur must have a 15 percent or greater ownership stake in the company and play an active and central role in its operations.
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.
As the Republican National Convention kicked off this Monday, the GOP also released the final draft of their party’s platform. The platform, which was written with input from the party’s base sourced via www.platform.gop, included generous mentions of issues important to the startup community.
Over 40 technology startups from across the country signed Engine's letter to Congress explaining why encryption is essential to their business operations and their users’ digital security and trust. “Encryption is at the heart of many of our products and services. Without the security and confidence that encryption provides, it would be difficult or impossible for us to find customers and investors, and ultimately, grow our businesses...
As the world reacts to the news of UK voters’ historic decision to leave the European Union, many are wondering what this means for the tech industry, which widely favored remaining in the EU. While the full consequences of the UK’s departure will take years to play out, the interim period could be one of great uncertainty for British and European tech firms, as well as for those U.S. companies with employees and customers across the pond.