BROADBAND ACCESS & INFRASTRUCTURE
Connecting more Americans to broadband is critical to growing our entrepreneurial economy. Startups rely on broadband connectivity to connect with users, develop innovative products and services, and run their daily operations. Beyond connectivity, startups also depend on an internet that is free and open. For a faster, more innovative internet, candidates should support policies that expand and improve connectivity and infrastructure (like making more spectrum available for commercial use) and protect net neutrality.
Teacher’s Pet: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has made broadband expansion a key component of his messaging in the race, and has actively campaigned for net neutrality. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) has pursued initiatives to expand broadband access for K-12 public schools, advocated for improved 4G cell and broadband service in rural areas, and supports “a free and fair Internet” through net neutrality.
Class Clown: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has opposed net neutrality since taking office: he voted for an anti-net neutrality resolution in 2011, joined a letter opposing net neutrality in 2014, and has been a vocal opponent of the FCC’s Open Internet Order. Additionally, while Blunt is on the record as supporting expanded rural broadband access, he sent a letter to the FCC earlier this year criticizing the Commission’s decision to increase the minimum requirements for broadband from 4Mbps to 25Mbps.
Startups rely on patent and copyright systems that protect intellectual property without hampering innovation. Candidates should champion patent reform, which is essential in order to reign in the power of patent trolls and mitigate the devastating effects on startups of abusive patent litigation. Candidates should also support copyright laws that balance the interests of rightsholders and online platforms—unlike the draconian copyright protections included in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which Congress attempted to pass five years ago.
Teacher’s Pet: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) voted "yes" on the America Invents Act and opposed PIPA. But he has gone even further to champion startup-friendly IP policies, co-authoring a letter urging Congress to “move swiftly to advance necessary reforms to address abusive patent litigation.”
Room to Improve: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) finds himself with an “F” on IP as a result of his opposition to the America Invents Act and his co-sponsorship of PIPA, which attempted to stifle Internet freedoms and innovation by forcing tech companies to police their own users. PIPA was tabled in 2012 after tech companies across the nation rallied against the bill.
Data Security & Privacy
Considerations around how companies, governments, and individuals access, protect, and share data are increasingly important in policy and regulatory discussions. This year’s debate around encryption has shown how policymakers’ lack of understanding of complex technologies can lead to legislation (like the Burr-Feinstein anti-encryption bill) that would damage the digital economy. It is essential that candidates recognize the importance of strong encryption. And in light of the negative impact that the Snowden revelations have had on the competitiveness of American tech companies abroad, candidates should support reforms to U.S. government surveillance laws.
Teacher’s Pet: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has been a leading proponent of encryption and data security since 1998. Feingold was the only Senator to oppose the expansion of governmental surveillance under the Patriot Act when the bill was first introduced in 2001. He has also routinely recognized the critical importance of encryption, arguing that forcing companies to build backdoors would weaken security and “be a mistake”.
Room to Improve: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) co-authored the problematic Burr-Feinstein anti-encryption bill that would undermine encryption and compromise data security by requiring U.S. tech companies to decrypt communications for law enforcement. Despite broad pushback from the startup and technology communities, Burr has not budged on the policy. Burr also opposed the USA Freedom Act, which passed Congress in 2015 and reined in NSA surveillance powers.
The success of the American startup ecosystem is dependent on access to a diverse pipeline of well-rounded and highly trained individuals. Candidates should support policies that focus on training and attracting top talent through skilled immigration reforms and improvements to U.S. STEM education.
Teacher’s Pet: Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) has made high-skilled immigration and STEM education focal points of his time in Congress. He established the STEM Education and Workforce Caucus in 2013 and co-sponsored the I-Squared Act, which would raise the cap on H-1B visas to accommodate more talented, high-skilled foreign workers and direct fees from the H-1B program towards funding improved STEM education and training.
The On-Demand Economy
Call it what you want—the sharing economy, the gig economy, the on-demand economy—but this new approach to the provision of goods and services currently employs nearly one million individuals, from house cleaners to drivers to software developers. Yet the on-demand economy is under attack from regulators and policymakers, threatening the future of the industry. Fortunately, some policymakers, like Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Warner (D-VA), and have recognized the promise of the on-demand economy.
Teacher’s Pet: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been quoted as saying "the on-demand economy is a miracle that only American free enterprise could produce” and dedicated an entire chapter of his book to how to make the regulatory environment friendlier for Uber. He has also suggested there should be a third worker-tax classification beyond W2 employees and 1099 contractors that would take into account people who work with on-demand services like Uber and Handy. That said, while it is encouraging to see Rubio acknowledge the importance of these issues, it’s still a far cry from proposing worthwhile legislative solutions. We’ll be looking for Senator Rubio to follow through on his talk if he’s re-elected this year.
Autonomous systems like self-driving cars and drones have the potential to transform the way we live, work, and play. But as with many innovative technologies that operate in traditionally regulated spaces, the future of these autonomous systems will be dictated in a large part by the legal and regulatory environment established by policymakers. Congress will consider many of these policies in the coming years, and it is important that candidates recognize the need for a balanced approach that protects consumers without stifling innovation with overly burdensome regulations.
Teacher’s Pet: Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) co-chairs the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus and has warned against over-regulating the nascent commercial drone industry, arguing that "Now is not the time to over-regulate the unmanned systems industry – it must be allowed to grow and flourish so we can find out what these systems can do and the benefits they can provide.” His understanding of the promise of autonomous systems puts him miles ahead of many other members of Congress.
Limited access to capital can be one of the biggest challenges a startup faces. In recent years, Congress has taken steps toward loosening regulations on how startups can raise money from new groups of investors, most significantly with the regulation crowdfunding provisions included in the JOBS Act. Candidates should support policies that create sustainable capital streams for entrepreneurs and encourage investment in early stage companies.
Teacher’s Pet: Rep Patrick Murphy (D-FL) has been a champion of improved capital access for startups. In 2014, he introduced the Angel Tax Credit Act, which would allow angel investors to claim a credit against a portion of their investment in high-tech startups. He also supported the Fix Crowdfunding Act, which passed the House earlier this year and makes targeted fixes that will significantly improve regulation crowdfunding.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to grow to 50 billion connected “things” by 2020, creating $19 trillion in economic value during that same time period. This exponential growth is already prompting a boom in startups building the gadgets and services powering the IoT future. However, in order for IoT to truly take off, outdated regulations must be improved and spectrum bandwidth concerns must be addressed. Candidates should support forward-thinking policies that encourage the growth of IoT.
Teacher’s Pet: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) understands the promise of IoT as a co-sponsor of the DIGIT Act, which which would create a working group of federal and private stakeholders to explore the possibilities of IoT. As she noted upon introduction of the bill, “Whether it’s fitness wearables or cloud infrastructure, harnessing the full potential of connected data flow from IoT devices will serve to create newfound efficiencies for consumers, entrepreneurs, and businesses of all sizes."