In 2016, disruptive technologies increasingly permeated every aspect of our lives: commercial drones took to the skies, self-driving cars hit the streets around the country, and artificial intelligence technologies proliferated. In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, policymakers launched a number of constructive efforts to grapple with the significant potential impacts of emerging technologies.
2016 brought with it many positive developments for startups in terms of capital access and tax policy. Investment crowdfunding finally went live, a number of bills to facilitate capital formation passed the House, and the startup community galvanized around a tax bill that would make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options. While many of these policy changes hang in limbo going into 2017, we believe that next year holds significant promise for improvements to the tax and financing policy landscape for startups.
Privacy and security issues were top of mind for policymakers once again in 2016: the Apple-FBI battle pushed questions around encryption to the forefront; massive data breaches and cyberattacks called attention to cybersecurity issues; uncertainty around data transfers between the U.S. and EU persisted; and the heated debate around government access to digital communications thrust electronic privacy reform back into the spotlight. But even with all of these prominent debates, 2016 did not see much actual legislative movement. It’s unclear what will come to pass next year, but we are hopeful that any policies Congress or the new Administration pursue take into account the unique needs and realities of the evolving startup ecosystem.
The net neutrality debate that dominated tech headlines in 2014 and 2015 was once again the top telecom issue in 2016, peaking in June with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision to uphold the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order. The telecom excitement didn’t end there, as policymakers dealt with a huge number of issues related to promoting telecom competition; preparing for a wireless, connected future; and building out broadband access in underserved parts of the country. In short, the momentum in 2015 carried over into 2016 in a big way. Looking ahead, 2017 is poised to be yet another busy year in telecom policy, though the impact of an incoming Trump Administration still remains uncertain.
Conversations about talent and diversity were once again at the forefront in 2016, with a heated Presidential election, bold actions by the Obama Administration around immigration and computer science education, and efforts by major tech players to diversify their workforces. The tech community and policymakers continued to search for solutions, and while 2016 didn’t unearth a silver bullet for fixing tech’s workforce and diversity issues, significant progress was made.
The Copyright Office’s announcement on New Year’s Eve 2015 that it was launching a public review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) set the tone for a varied and busy year in intellectual property policy. While there was no “Next Great Copyright Act” or comprehensive patent reform bill in 2016, courts, agencies, and elected officials addressed a wide range of IP issues, setting the stage for even more significant developments in 2017.