Startup News Digest: 4/29/2016

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

House Unanimously Passes Email Privacy Act. On Wednesday, the House passed the widely supported, broadly bipartisan Email Privacy Act by a unanimous vote of 419-0. The bill makes long overdue updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to bring our digital privacy laws into the 21st century. Specifically, the bill clarifies that law enforcement must obtain a warrant—except in certain clearly defined emergencies—before accessing individuals’ electronic communications, such as email. We hope (and suspect) that the unanimous support from the House encourages the Senate to take up and pass the bill without any weakening amendments as quickly as possible. Read our full statement here.

New Bill Eases Restrictions on Pitch Events. The House passed a startup-friendly piece of legislation by wide margins this week. The HALOS Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), clarifies some regulatory ambiguities around general solicitation, the practice of advertising investment opportunities. This bill will make it easier for startups to publicly showcase their ideas at events like pitch competitions and demo days without unintentionally running afoul of securities laws. We hope the Senate will take up and pass the HALOS Act in the coming weeks. Read our full statement here.

Unlocking the Set-Top Box. Did you know that the average household spends more than $231 per year leasing a set-top box from their cable company? At that rate, a consumer could buy a laptop with four gigabytes of memory every year for less than they spend renting an outdated, clunky piece of hardware that allows for little more than watching basic TV. But all that could soon change. In January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed rules that would open up the set-top box market to competition. Last week, Engine and video streaming startup Fandor filed comments with the FCC arguing that the proposal would transform what has been an uncompetitive walled-garden into an open, level playing field, lowering prices for consumers and unleashing a wave of robust innovation. Read the full comments here.

Steps Towards More Competitive Broadband. On Thursday, the FCC approved a proposal to consider new rules that could improve competition in the business broadband marketplace (also known as the “special access” market). Special access lines are the high capacity business broadband lines that allow ATMs to connect directly to your bank or cell phone towers to connect back to the network. Competition in this industry is sorely lacking, with 73 percent of the market dominated by just one provider. This pushes up prices for startups, universities, hospitals, and other businesses that depend on these lines. For a good rundown on why the FCC’s action this week is such an important step, check out this op-ed by Public Knowledge’s Gene Kimmelman.

Dear POTUS: More Unlicensed Spectrum, Please. This week, Engine joined a diverse coalition of 23 organizations and companies in urging President Barack Obama to ensure that enough unlicensed spectrum is made available to address the worsening spectrum crunch. As demand for data skyrockets and an increasing number of devices, applications, and services come online, the spectrum that powers these products and services is dwindling. In its efforts to make more spectrum available for commercial use, the Administration should prioritize the 5.9 GHz band, which has a number attributes that make it uniquely suited for unlicensed use. Read the full letter here.

Businesses, Governors, Educators Call for CS Funding. Earlier this week, a long list of governors as well as leaders in both education and in business signed a letter to Congress urging it commit $250 million funding K-12 computer science education. “Not only does computer science provide every student foundational knowledge, it also leads to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy,” the letter says, pointing out, “There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs, in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare, but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year.” The President made a similar plea to Congress earlier this year, calling for a $4 billion investment in K-12 CS education. Whether Congress will respond to this latest call to action is yet to be determined.