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. On some issues like tax reform, education, and over-regulation, the platform aligns with the positions held by the startup and tech community. However, on other topics like net neutrality, immigration reform, and the treatment of the LGBT community, the Republican Party remains in stark contrast to the tech industry.
Here’s a look at some highlights:
Tax Reform: As expected, the GOP mentioned tax reform throughout the platform. Startup highlights include a call for capital gains taxes to be examined for their effect “on the availability of venture capital”, and support for an expansion of the tax deductions available for expensing startup costs.
Data Privacy and Encryption: Reflecting the national debate currently being waged around data privacy and encryption technologies, GOP leaders declined to take a firm stance on the issue. While the platform emphasized that “encryption technology…[has] become crucial to the digital economy”, it also inaccurately asserted that “such innovations have brought new dangers...from criminals and terrorists who seek to use encryption technology to harm us.” But given the lack of party consensus on the issue, the GOP reiterated its commitment to personal and data privacy while calling for it to be balanced with “the government’s legitimate need to access encrypted information.”
Business-friendly Policies: In addition to advocating for lower taxes, the Republicans also attacked over-regulation, arguing for “minimally intrusive” regulations so as to minimize their impacts on new and small businesses. In particular, the platform gave a nod to “the sharing economy and on-demand platforms” as well as the “Internet of Things”, calling for public policies that encourage innovation and competition. The “sharing economy”, in particular, has been facing regulatory issues at both the state and local levels, as well as in foreign markets, as incumbent hotel and taxi interests mobilize against their disruptive influences.
Broadband Access and Spectrum: The platform called for increased broadband access, in particular for Americans living in rural locations where the market is unable to economically support rolling out broadband upgrades. The GOP also reiterated their support for rolling out high-speed, next-generation 5G spectrum, which will be crucial to ensuring continued growth in the digital and innovation economy.
Education: Republicans repeatedly called for an emphasis on STEM education, especially in reference to increasing America’s competitiveness in the digital economy and in technological innovation. In addition, they called for increasing college affordability, an issue that has gained prominence as more and more Americans graduate with crippling levels of debt. Recent studies have also shown that debt-burdened young graduates are less likely to start their own businesses, a problem Republicans are hoping to work on as the number of startups that are launched each year shrinks.
Net Neutrality: Consistent with ongoing efforts by Republicans to undermine the FCC’s Open Internet Order, the GOP platform attacked the agency’s net neutrality rules. This is problematic for the startup and tech communities, which have staunchly supported the FCC’s efforts to ensure a free and open Internet that enables startup innovation.
LGBT Issues: While the platform makes no direct reference to LGBT people or issues, GOP leaders did bow to pressure from the socially conservative wing of the party and reaffirmed their faith in their concept of “traditional marriage” as a “union of one man and one woman.” It also made several references to guaranteeing religious freedom, a nod to the efforts of several GOP-controlled states to pass “religious freedom” laws that were staunchly opposed by the tech community for their discriminatory effects on LGBT people in the workforce.
Immigration: The Republican platform, reflecting the central focus that immigration played in the GOP primary, included a commitment to building a wall between the US-Mexican border, and stricter enforcement of existing immigration law. Of particular concern for the tech community, it also asserted that “it is indefensible to continue offering lawful permanent residence to more than one million foreign nationals every year,” a potential warning shot across the bow of H-1B reform, a major goal for the tech and startup community, which suffers from a continuing shortage of top talent.
Overall, the GOP platform demonstrated that the party is actively thinking about the issues that affect the tech industry, and in particular, the startups that are driving economic growth and technological innovation in the country. While its positions on tax reform, broadband access, education, and pushing back on intrusive regulation are commendable, it also contained many worrying provisions regarding immigration, LGBT protections, and net neutrality—all key issues for tech.
In addition, because party platforms only set out general principles, it does not compensate for the fact that the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, still has failed to release a comprehensive tech agenda, something his rival Hillary Clinton did several weeks ago. We at Engine continue to anxiously await a detailed policy agenda from the Trump campaign that addresses how he plans to support and grow the startup and tech communities.