Startup News Digest: 4/1/2016

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

ECPA Reform. Debate continued this week around federal reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Last Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte floated a number of changes to the Email Privacy Act, which is scheduled to be marked up by his Committee in two weeks. Privacy advocates and the tech community have taken issue with a number of these modifications and negotiations are ongoing. At the state level, Engine released a memorandum of support for a New York bill that, similar to the California ECPA that was enacted last October, would update the state’s digital privacy laws to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing an individual’s electronic communications.

Lifeline for Internet. Did you know that nearly half of all households earning less than $25,000 a year do not have high-speed Internet service? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took steps yesterday to close this divide by voting to expand the existing Lifeline program to subsidize broadband service. Currently, Lifeline’s federal subsidy only covers phone service, but yesterday’s move will allow low income Americans to use their monthly $9.25 Lifeline benefit towards Internet connectivity too. While this change will not completely solve the problem of universal connectivity, it will go a long way towards bridging the technology gap between America’s richest and poorest.

H-1B Applications Open. H-1B visa applications for the 2017 fiscal year open today and are likely to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 within just a few days. Last year, United States Citizen and Immigration Services received a record 233,000 applications. H-1Bs are the most common visas among foreign workers in the tech industry. Though the program has ignited recent debate due to a few cases of abuse, the tech community widely agrees the cap is far too low to fill the shortage of skilled technical workers desperately needed to power the country’s major tech firms and growing startups.

Autonomous Car Regs. U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Tuesday morning that DOT’s guidance on self-driving car technology is forthcoming within the next few months, meaning the Administration might just fulfill its January promise to issue regulatory guidelines within six months. In a fast-moving industry where innovation is quickly outpacing existing regulation, this is welcome news. But there may be another impediment to the deployment, effectiveness, and safety of autonomous vehicles: America’s aging transportation infrastructure. Volvo’s North American CEO had some trouble during a demo in Las Vegas this week when the automaker’s semi-autonomous car refused to drive itself due to poor lane markings.  “It can't find the lane markings!" He griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. "You need to paint the bloody roads here!"

Future Tech, Future Policies. On Thursday, Engine launched Future Tech, a new Medium publication that will serve as a one-stop shop for policymakers and other interested individuals to learn about innovative, emerging technologies, and the developing policy landscape around them. The first edition explores drones and features posts from Engine; the Consumer Technology Association; a drone traffic management startup, uAvionix; and Gretchen West, a Senior Advisor at Hogan Lovells and a long-time advocate for the drone and unmanned systems industry.


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