Startup News Digest: 5/12/17

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

Comey’s Dismissal Puts Tech (and the Country) on Edge. 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 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 at the FBI could best be described as tumultuous, it is unlikely that the President will appoint someone with a friendlier approach. While on the campaign trail, President Trump blasted Apple over its unwillingness to enable a backdoor for government on encrypted devices in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting. Moreover, Trump’s recent law enforcement appointees, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have taken similarly expansive stances on issues of surveillance and government access to data. So for now, tech and the rest of the country will wait nervously for the next director and, most likely, the next big privacy battle.

FCC Inundated with Net Neutrality Comments. The fight over the open internet heated up this week, beginning Sunday night when John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, revisited the issue and implored viewers to weigh in with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in favor of strong net neutrality rules. Following the episode, the FCC’s website crashed. The agency has attributed this failure to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) cyberattack. However, many have questioned the accuracy of this claim, wondering if perhaps the large influx of comments resulting from Oliver’s call to action was too much for the FCC’s servers to handle (interestingly, the FCC’s website suffered a similar crash in 2014 following Oliver’s first net neutrality segment, which the agency is now also blaming on a DDoS attack). Senators Ron Wyden (D-WY) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) sent a letter on Tuesday demanding answers from the agency, and a number of groups are calling for more transparency around the crash. Meanwhile, an internet bot has been filing thousands of fake comments opposing existing net neutrality rules with the agency. More than 128,000 identical comments have been submitted using the names of real people, but it is unclear who is behind the bot. We’re tracking.

New York Opens Applications for Testing Autonomous Vehicles. On Wednesday, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced that the state would open applications for companies who wished to test self-driving cars. Applicants who are granted permits will be able to test vehicles until April of next year. The state established the additional guidelines that drivers must be present in the vehicles at all times during testing and that participants must also give reports of their tests to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). For its part, the DMV highlighted both increased consumer safety and familiarity with the technology as goals of the test period. “We need to make sure these vehicles are safely tested on our roads, while providing opportunities for the public to become familiar with this technology,” DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said. Although no company has publicly stated that it will participate, a spokesperson for Uber said the company is reviewing the application.

This Week’s #StartupsEverywhere: Katherine Jernstrom & Isaac Vanderburg (Anchorage, AK). We ventured outside of the lower 48 this week and checked in with Katherine Jernstrom and Isaac Vanderburg, two startup ecosystem builders in Anchorage, AK. Though they highlighted Alaska’s geographic isolation as a challenge, they noted that the startup community in Anchorage is growing thanks to concerted efforts by investors, innovators, policy wonks, business owners, and local leaders to “push the rope.” Read the full profile here.