Startup News Digest 8/12/2016

Our Weekly Take on Some of the Biggest Stories in Startup and Tech Policy.

Tech Workers Donating Less in 2016. By June 2012, President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney had already received over $11 million in donations from tech industry workers. But these employees—“long a reliable source of presidential donations”—haven’t been as generous with the 2016 nominees. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have only received a combined $3.5 million from tech workers so far. And Trump is faring much worse than Clinton, having pulled in a mere $128,000 from 238 tech donors so far. That’s less than 6 percent of what Romney had raised from tech by this point in the race. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given Silicon Valley’s disdain for Trump. Still, Clinton has raised less than half of what Obama had pulled in at this point, and her primary rival Bernie Sanders left the race having raised $6.2 million in tech donations. Some are attributing the lackluster showing to Clinton’s long track record in politics, which donors may view as a liability “in an industry that reveres innovation.” Others have cited her wishy-washy position on encryption as concerning. Still, it’s likely that tech donations for Clinton will pick up as the election gets closer, if not simply because many people in Silicon Valley are scared of a Trump presidency.

FCC’s Muni Broadband Order Struck Down. Last year, on the same day the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed its historic net neutrality order, it also issued a ruling preempting laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that effectively barred municipalities from providing or expanding internet services for their citizens. Around 20 states have such laws on the books (passed after sustained lobbying campaigns from incumbent ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner Cable), and while the FCC’s order didn’t categorically preempt all such laws, it was an important step in undoing some of the most egregious anti-competitive broadband policies in the country. North Carolina and Tennessee fought back, challenging the FCC’s authority to issue its ruling. This week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the FCC lacked the legal authority to preempt state anti-municipal broadband rules. In preempting the state laws, the FCC relied on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which authorizes the FCC to promulgate rules that promote the deployment of broadband. But, while the court found that the FCC’s order did indeed facilitate broadband competition and expansion—in both Tennessee and North Carolina, when the municipalities in question launched their broadband networks, the incumbent ISPs (Comcast and Time Warner, respectively) increased their speeds and lowered prices—the court held that Section 706 does not authorize the FCC to preempt state laws like the ones at issue in this case. While the decision is a setback for the FCC’s efforts to increase broadband competition, hopefully the factual findings in the case prompt federal lawmakers to take steps to promote meaningful competition in America’s monopolistic broadband markets.

How Startups Can Influence Policy. For many startups that are busy moving fast and breaking things, slow-moving Washington, D.C. can appear to have little day-to-day relevance for their businesses. But in recent years, startups have started to realize the importance of proactively engaging lawmakers—to improve the legislative and regulatory climate for startups, to breakdown barriers for business, and to positively influence the treatment of emerging technologies. We explore how proactive political engagement can help startups on TechDay’s website this week. Read the full piece here.

State of the Digital Divide. According to numbers released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) this week, 75 percent of Americans used the internet in July. But while Internet use has “increased dramatically overall,” a digital divide still persists between urban and rural Americans. 75 percent of urban dwellers reported using the Internet in 2015, whereas only 69 percent of rural residents got online during the same time period. This divide is especially evident along lines of race, income, and education level. For example, there is only a one percentage point difference in the adoption rates of rural and urban Americans who hold a college degree (87 percent versus 88 percent, respectively). But rural residents without a high school diploma use the Internet at a 7 percent lower rate than urban residents without a diploma (52 percent versus 59 percent, respectively). Check out more data here.

NFAP Rolls Out Studies on High-Skilled Immigration This week the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) rolled out two studies on H-1B visas and how they are integral to the U.S. economy. The first study found that H-1B holders were paid at levels equivalent, or in some cases even higher, than their American counterparts, and that H-1B visas generated productivity gains, new domestic jobs, higher American wages, and direct (via fees) and indirect contributions (via taxes) to the treasury. Given that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, it’s a no-brainer that the U.S. should welcome high-skilled immigrants to our country. NFAP also looked at the negative consequences of a pair of bills introduced in the Senate that would severely impact high-skilled immigration to America. S.2394, sponsored by Senators Cruz and Sessions, would effectively expel international students studying in the U.S. after graduation, even though they make up 77% of all graduate students in electrical engineering and 71% in computer science. Instead of allowing them to contribute to American leadership in these fields, they would be forced to return to their home countries, depriving our companies and economy of their talent. Senators Durbin and Grassley also introduced S.2266, which would impose onerous requirements on both H1-B and L-1 visas dramatically reduce the number of people who would quality. Though these bills are unlikely to pass, they nonetheless indicate a worrying lack of understanding about how integral high-skilled immigrants are to the U.S. economy.