Startup News Digest: 3/11/2016

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

Closing the Digital Divide. On Tuesday, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) unveiled a plan to reform and expand its Lifeline program in an effort to get more Americans online. Until now, the Lifeline program has subsidized the cost of telephone service for low-income individuals. Under the FCC’s new proposal, this $9.25 subsidy could be applied towards broadband service as well. President Obama quickly backed the independent agency’s proposal and announced his own complementary effort, the ConnectAll initiative, which has a goal of getting 20 million Americans connected by 2020.

Unemployment Comp Awarded to Uber Driver. A recent ruling from California's Employment Development Department (EDD) has further complicated Uber’s legal battle over worker classification. Last month, the EDD awarded $9,308 in unemployment compensation to Patrick Ely, an Uber driver who was terminated from the platform. This is significant because it means the EDD views Ely as an employee who is legally due this assistance, rather than an independent contractor. While the award is specific to Ely and does not set a binding standard, it could have broader ramifications for classification cases being litigated by Uber and similar on-demand economy platforms, such as the O’Connor case, a class-action suit against Uber that is set to go to trial this summer. Additionally, the EDD’s award, which conflicts with a 2012 ruling by the same office, highlights the jurisdictional complexity and potential confusion that will likely result from these worker classification battles playing out on a case-by-case, state-by-state basis.

Stay in U.S. Extended for Foreign STEM Grads. Foreign students who pursue STEM degrees at American colleges and universities will soon be authorized to work in the U.S. a bit longer. Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized a rule that extends the Optional Practical Training program, specifically for graduates in STEM fields, to 36 months. Over 50,000 commenters submitted feedback about the proposed rule to DHS in October, including Engine, writing, “For careers in information technology and software engineering, this kind of on-the-job, applied training is an important aspect of post-graduate education in the field...The extension also sends an important message: that short of congressional reform, the U.S. government remains committed to expanding opportunities for immigrants willing to dedicate their talent, acumen, and skills to U.S. companies.” The new rule goes into effect May 10.

Coalition Forms to Push Congress on CS. A new coalition of nonprofit organizations, tech companies, and educators has formed to push Congress to invest $250 million in K-12 computer science education. While the recently-passed education reform bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, allows states and local school district greater flexibility in funding CS education, it does not actually provide that funding. The Computer Science Education Coalition will advocate for a “a federally focused and funded strategy” to support and advance CS education initiatives across the country.

Who’s the Tech Friendliest Candidate? Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this week that he will not pursue a third party presidential bid after his team explored the possibility and concluded he likely wouldn’t win. Many believe Bloomberg would have been the favored candidate among the tech community. So who can win over tech now? Hillary Clinton may have the big-name tech donors, but where do she and other candidates stand on the actual issues? Look out for a report card from Engine grading the contenders on tech issues next week!