Startup News Digest: 2/17/17

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy. To receive this weekly digest in your inbox, sign up at

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 patchwork of state laws is 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).

Senator Hatch Unveils His Innovation Agenda for 2017. In a press conference on Thursday, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) detailed his legislative priorities for the tech sector in the first half of this Congress. Among the many items on his list was patent reform (with a specific focus on venue reform), a successful update of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the consideration of regulatory policies for autonomous vehicles and drones, and the continued protection of strong encryption. On the topic of high-skilled immigration, an issue that the startup community has been especially vocal about in recent weeks, Senator Hatch said, “enhancing our competitive workforce means improving the process by which high-skilled individuals in other countries come to the United States to fill crucial positions for which there is a shortage of American labor.” Despite differing dramatically from President Trump on the subject, Senator Hatch promised the tech community that he would continue to defend the H-1B program and try to bridge the distance between the tech industry and the Administration. We’re tracking.

Universities See Drop in Foreign Engineering Applicants. On that same topic of immigration, engineering graduate programs across the country are seeing a marked decline in applications from foreign students this year, according to a piece published in Science this week. For example, the dean of engineering at Vanderbilt University reported an 18 percent drop in international graduate applications for his department. Other programs are indicating as much as a 30 percent decline over 2016 levels. While a formal, broad survey has not been done, the various deans who spoke with Science indicated these lower numbers were a pattern, not an anomaly, and they were likely a direct effect of the 2016 election outcome and President Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric. This decline could have a major impact on universities bottom lines. The engineering dean at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in Golden, whose program saw a 19 percent drop, explains that “We could be down almost 60 students...And I’ve been told that 30 students equals $1 million in tuition revenue.”

Legislation Watch: Women in STEM Bills Head to the White House. Two Engine-supported bills, the INSPIRE Women Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act passed the Senate this week and now await President Trump’s signature. The bills, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Congresswoman Elizabeth Etsy (D-CT), respectively, encourage the education and recruitment of women for STEM careers. Both of these bills were a part of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) Innovation Initiative and received broad, bipartisan support.

Verizon and T-Mobile Up Their Unlimited Data Offerings. Verizon unveiled a new unlimited data program this week in an effort to recover customers it has lost in an increasingly competitive wireless market. The new offering does have some restrictions, but unlike many other unlimited plans, it covers HD video streaming and up to 10 GB of hotspot access. This new plan is a departure for Verizon, who had long been opposed to unlimited plans even when several other providers began to offer them. Undoubtedly, its wireless service revenue decline of 4.9 percent year-over-year contributed to the new strategy. In response to this move by Verizon, T-Mobile announced on Monday that it has added HD video streaming and 10 GB of hotspot access. On Thursday, AT&T followed suit and dropped its TV subscription requirement for unlimited data. Despite these new offerings, it remains to be seen how the networks will handle the seemingly inevitable increase in traffic or the potential policy implications.

This Week’s #StartupsEverywhere Profile: Matthew Marcus in Kansas City, KS. This week, we discussed Kansas City’s thriving startup ecosystem with Matthew Marcus, Executive Director for the Kansas City Startup Foundation (KCSF) and active co-leader of the Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV). Learn more about how a number of serendipitous events, combined with robust community collaboration, helped to drive innovation in Kansas City: read the full profile here.

Join us on MARCH 8TH for a luncheon discussion on Big Data. The event will convene policy analysts and startup leaders to discuss how Big Data is being used to have a positive, public impact. The conversation will also focus on privacy and how to best ensure data security so innovation can thrive. Lunch will be provided. Space is limited. RSVP here.