Startup News Digest: 3/4/2016

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

Net Neutrality Under Fire. It’s been just a year now since the Federal Communication Commission’s historic decision to protect the open Internet, but net neutrality still faces fierce opposition in both the courts and in Congress. Last month, a group of Republican senators, including presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, legislation that would repeal the FCC’s net neutrality rules. And this week, a Senate committee released a resentful and condemning report entitled, “Regulating the Internet: How the White House Howled Over FCC Independence.” The report argues the FCC was too heavily influenced by the White House in reaching its decision to regulate the Internet in order to prevent ISPs from unfair price discrimination—as if the public’s nearly 4 million comments (sent to the FCC before POTUS remarked on the issue) had no impact. Meanwhile, the challenge to net neutrality from a coalition of major telecom companies awaits a decision by a U.S. court of appeals. That decision should be announced in the coming months.

Apple and FBI Testify. Apple’s ongoing legal dispute with the FBI made its way to DC this week with House Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers grilled FBI Director James Comey on the consequences to cybersecurity that would arise if courts were permitted to order a technology company to break their own encryption services to assist law enforcement. Meanwhile, in the courts, a group of top tech companies filed amicus briefs in support of Apple’s position, arguing that weakening digital security risks exposes consumers to serious harm. The court case is likely to drag on through several appeals, and Congress is planning on convening a commission to further explore the tension between digital security and law enforcement activity.

More Airwaves for Mobile. After months of negotiations, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved its much-hyped, bipartisan spectrum and mobile infrastructure bill on Thursday morning. The MOBILE NOW Act, introduced by Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL), will foster innovation and empower entrepreneurs by freeing up spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed commercial use and streamlining broadband infrastructure deployment. A number of amendments were approved, including an important provision from Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) that creates a national unlicensed spectrum policy. The bill represents a significant step towards transforming our mobile future and encouraging technological innovation. We hope the full Senate takes up the bill and pass it soon. Read Emma's full op-ed in The Hill further explaining Engine's support for the bill.

Chicago and Florida Push CS. Just weeks ago, Chicago’s school board voted unanimously to make computer science a graduation requirement. Starting this fall, high school students in the country’s third largest public school district will have to take at least one computer science class in order to graduate. Meanwhile in Florida, the state senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow high schools students to count computer science towards the foreign language requirement, an approach that’s been met with mixed reactions. (In many other states, CS currently fulfills a math or science credit.) Nonetheless, these new measures demonstrate the growing recognition by educators that coding is a critical skill in the new economy. Today, only 25 percent of schools across the country offer CS courses. As highglights, there are currently 617,999 open computing jobs nationwide, while last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce.

How do the Candidates Rank on Tech? As the nominee field narrows in the 2016 presidential race, it’s time voters evaluate more closely where the candidates stand on important issues, including tech. The site Geektime gave Hillary Clinton an “A” for supporting tax breaks for startups, high-skilled visa reform, and net neutrality. Candidates tend to split along party lines on the issue of net neutrality, while takes on encryption are more mixed, write bloggers for Brookings. And what about broadband access? Engine was one of several organizations to sign a letter urging this week’s debate hosts to ask GOP candidates how they’d plan to increase Internet access for more Americans (maybe next time?) Stay tuned for a full report card from Engine grading candidate’s positions on these issues and more soon.