Startup News Digest: 5/27/2016

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.

Tech Wants Public Process on Zero-Rating. On Tuesday, Engine joined a coalition of 59 companies and public interest groups in sending a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting an open, public process to help inform the agency’s evaluation of zero-rating practices. The FCC’s Open Internet rules that were approved last year didn’t explicitly outlaw zero-rating programs, and the agency instead reviews them on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the service harms consumers or businesses. But as the letter notes, “in the time since the Order was released, ISPs have created a broad enough set of test cases that a decision on each of them would have much the same effect as a new rule, only without the same public participation and transparency...These decisions are too important to happen behind closed doors.” Read the full letter here.

Startups Respond to Encryption Debates. How are startups responding to the recent legal battle between Apple and the FBI over encryption? By building systems that will make it more difficult for government to access their data. We don’t necessarily agree with the Washington Post's characterization that Silicon Valley is becoming “radicalized.” But the piece gives great insight into the resources that cash-strapped startups are now willing to expend to place customer data beyond the reach of the government. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen notes that “[startups] believe there’s this window of opportunity that if we build strong encryption now, we can make it a fait accompli. But if we let five years pass, it may never happen.” Engine is also organizing a coalition of startups to tell Congress why encryption matters; join us here.

Veterans Sign Letter Supporting VET Act. With Memorial Day upon us, there’s no better time for Congress to consider and pass the VET Act, and a group of over 30 veteran entrepreneurs and agree. Sponsored by Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT), this bill would empower veterans to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations by giving them access to training resources through the Small Business Administration and allowing them to utilize their GI Bill benefit towards starting businesses. Engine, in partnership with a non-profit supporting vets working in the tech industry, VetTechTrek, put together a letter of support and sent it to Congress this week. Read the full letter here.

Mobile Data Usage Skyrocketing. According a study published this week by the wireless industry’s trade association, CTIA, Americans used nearly 10 billion gigabytes of mobile data last year. That is a staggering amount of data. To put it in perspective, data use grew by only 26 percent from 2013 to 2014. But in the past year, mobile data use increased by 137 percent. These new numbers serve as a reminder of how critical it is for policymakers to devise a strategy to meet the growing demand for wireless connectivity. As we’ve argued before, the answer is more spectrum. The Senate Commerce Committee has passed the MOBILE Now Act, which aims to free up additional spectrum for commercial use. We hope that numbers like these from CTIA will renew the push to bring the bill before the full Senate.

Bipartisanship in An Election Year? When it comes to some of the issues most pressing for the tech economy, our political parties should be able to find consensus. That’s what Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX), along with Consumer Technology Association President, Gary Shapiro, wrote in an op-ed this week. They lay out five problems and five related bipartisan solutions to advance the tech economy, and we think they’re pretty good ideas. Notably, patent reform could curb frivolous patent lawsuits, freeing up spectrum would allow more devices and services to operate over government-owned airwaves, and allowing innovation to flourish without arbitrary regulation promotes startup activity. “These issues are too pressing, the needs too great, to be put on the back burner until the next president takes office in January,” they write. We couldn’t agree more.

Github Releases Diversity Numbers. Github, a code-hosting startup, is the latest tech company to publicly share its employee demographics. No major surprises though. Github’s gender balance—64 percent male worldwide and 64 percent white in the U.S.—is on par with the rest of Silicon Valley. However, there has been some improvement. Just two years ago, the company was 79 percent male.