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September 30, 2014
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has started the process of distributing thousands of currency readers to the blind and visually impaired and a recommendation recently released by the Government Accountability Office pretty much boils down to this: evaluate the program to figure out if it actually works.
September 29, 2014
Over the past decade Silicon Valley has, in fits and starts, been amassing more and more political clout. Recently, there have been several high profile moves including Uber hiring former Obama campaign guru, David Plouffe, and Spotify hiring Jonathan Prince, a former Clinton aide with ties to the Obama White House. These moves mark a shift in the way the industry has conducted business, from merely spending money to really going after some of Washington’s biggest names. Silicon Valley’s growth and shear wealth are starting to make this a necessity.
In the past, tech companies were known for spending money in Washington but not in a particularly savvy way. For instance, a recent report revealed that the tech industry ranks near the bottom when it comes to the transparency of its political contributions. Some believe this reflects a form of political immaturity since revealing that information can be beneficial from a PR standpoint. No doubt, Plouffe and Co. will be looking to reverse the perception (in D.C.) of their clients as rich kids with no practical understanding of the strenuous policymaking process.
But even with their newfound clout, it remains to be seen if tech companies will come close to wielding the same influence as more established players like the telecommunications industry. As the BuzzFeed article mentions, “[a]ny given telco still has more lawyers and lobbyists working on the Federal Communications Commission than all the tech companies combined…”
Still, with the aforementioned hiring spree, it seems as if the industry is overcoming its aversion to politics and if it wants to move its agenda (net neutrality, high-skilled immigration, etc.) it will likely need to continue making significant investments in lobbying, public relations and communications.
In addition to the Federal Communications Commission being scheduled to vote on a proposal to eliminate the sports blackout rule, several net neutrality-related events are happening this week, including the FCC’s economics-focused Open Internet roundtable session.
September 25, 2014
Over the last two days, the National Academy of Sciences held a series of panels for its discussion of “High-Skilled Immigration Policy and the Global Competition for Talent.” There to discuss the policy implications of an immigration overhaul was William Kamela, who served at the Department of Labor during the Clinton administration, and is now Microsoft’s federal policy lead for workforce readiness and immigration issues.
During the panel discussion, Kamela brought up Microsoft’s decision to open a new training and development center in Vancouver, British Columbia. The center is slated to open in late 2015 and is expected to bring 400 new jobs to the region.
When asked about Microsoft’s response to inaction on immigration reform, Kamela asserted that we can expect more decisions like the Vancouver move should Congress not raise the cap on H-1B visas, stating that they’d like more H-1B visas but if they can’t get them they may go to more places like Vancouver or Hong Kong.
Microsoft, like many tech companies, would like to see an expansion of the H-1B visa program, which would make it easier for them to recruit much sought-after foreign talent in the field of computer science. More specifically, they would like to see the current cap on visas (85,000) raised or abolished entirely. (However, some critics have argued that an expansion of the program isn’t needed and that companies like Microsoft only want to replace American workers with younger and cheaper labor.) Included in last summer’s immigration reform bill (S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), was a proposal to double the cap. Although it passed in the Senate 68-32, the bill was not taken up in the House. House Speaker John Boehner once considered taking on an immigration overhaul but decided against it after pressure from fellow Republicans. Since then, the House has passed bills dealing with border security and deportation.
President Obama, in a June 30 Rose Garden ceremony, promised to take executive action to overhaul immigration by the end of the summer. He later announced that he would be postponing the decision until after the November midterms.
Obama is considering two proposals that would affect the tech industry. One proposal would “exclude dependents from the numerical cap on employment-based green cards, which is now 140,000 a year.” The other proposal would “‘recapture’ unused employment green cards from previous years.” Though another panelist, Felicia Escobar, Special Assistant to the President on Immigration, admitted that the White House was “still trying to figure out [its] flexibility” from a legal standpoint and that there is no “silver bullet” for addressing high-skilled immigration policy through the framework of executive action.
But of course without a legislative fix, any executive action could be reversed by the next administration in 2017. With Republicans upset over Obama’s potential action, it is unclear whether the two sides will be able to come together and move forward on a comprehensive deal anytime soon.
September 24, 2014
At a net neutrality forum Wednesday, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s opening statement focused on mobile broadband while commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel focused her questions on paid prioritization.
The forum was hosted by California Democrat Doris Matsui in Sacramento. The FCC is in the process of rewriting net neutrality rules after its 2010 rules were mostly struck down by an appeals court earlier this year.
September 23, 2014
Tax issues being debated on the Hill that could affect tech companies and have been in the spotlight lately include whether to allow states to require online retailers outside their borders to collect their sales taxes and whether to make the Internet tax moratorium permanent. CQ Roll Call’s Katy O’Donnell in a recent story looks abroad.
September 19, 2014
It was a big net neutrality week in Washington: the deadline hit for Open Internet comments with the Federal Communications Commission, the agency held Open Internet roundtables with stakeholders and the Senate held its own hearing on net neutrality. A few highlights from the week:
September 18, 2014
The group representing wireless carriers is looking to Congress for help in trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission to continue treating mobile broadband differently from fixed broadband in its net neutrality rules, which has meant fewer requirements for mobile.
CTIA – The Wireless Association sent a letter to all lawmakers Thursday asking for “support in urging the Federal Communications Commission… to retain mobile-specific Open Internet rules that reflect the unique engineering, competitive, and legal conditions of today’s 4G LTE mobile network.”
The FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules didn’t apply to mobile broadband to the same extent as fixed broadband. In rewriting those rules (after the bulk of them were struck down by an appeals court earlier this year) the current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before the FCC asks whether the agency should revisit that different treatment given big changes in the mobile market that have happened over the past few years.
CTIA has contended that mobile faces different technical issues than fixed broadband and that there’s more competition in the mobile marketplace, and in Thursday’s letter to lawmakers, the group’s president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker writes:
As the FCC contemplates revising its Open Internet rules, it is vitally important for the Commission to retain the mobile-specific approach that has governed the mobile industry since 2010. Under that approach, which recognized the very significant engineering differences between wireless and wireline networks, wireless operators have been able to compete, invest and innovate.
She goes on to write that: “Contrary to the assertions of some that wireless broadband’s success justifies a heavier regulatory burden, the industry’s record of investment, innovation and expanded consumer choice strongly suggests that the FCC got it right in 2010.”
The letter also calls on lawmakers to “direct the FCC to not reclassify mobile broadband as a Title II service,” contending that current law bars the agency from such action and that doing so would spur “litigation and uncertainty.”
September 11, 2014
The International Trade Commission released a digital trade report on Thursday that the Senate Finance Committee had requested and one takeaway highlights something we all know – the Internet is important to the economy. Here are a few of the findings:
- Digital trade’s impact on increased productivity and lower international trade costs on industries particularly involved in digital trade increased the U.S. gross domestic product by 3.4 to 4.8 percent (translated to $517.1 billion to $710.7 billion) in 2011 (that’s looking at things from what they would have been without it).
- Companies particularly involved in digital trade had $935.2 billion in online sales in 2012. That number is based on a survey the ITC conducted of nearly 10,000 U.S. companies. Online purchases by these companies totaled $471.4 billion in 2012.
- Companies surveyed also most often identified Nigeria, Algeria and China as places where they faced barriers to digital trade. Places where firms least frequently felt imposed barriers: Australia, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Note: The report defines digital trade as domestic commerce and international trade where the Internet has a “particularly significant role in ordering, producing, or delivering products and services.”
There’s a lot to dig through in this more than 300 page report, so check back with Technocrat later for more insight and analysis.
If California House Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, who’s been vying to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee next Congress, gets that spot, one area she might pursue is updating an innovation agenda.
Eshoo spoke at an education and technology event hosted by The Atlantic on Thursday, and while she didn’t mention her bid for the senior Democratic spot on the panel, she did say she wants to see an updated innovation agenda next Congress. She wrote an innovation agenda for Democrats several years ago and next Congress she said she wants to “update the innovation agenda, to go back and review not only what we accomplished, but where we need to build.”
“I think that we really have to put the pedal to the medal in producing future teachers that are skilled… in these key areas of science, technology, engineering and math,” she continued. “And we need to bring that and integrate it into the educational experience of younger and younger students and we need to attract more girls and young women into the field.”
Eshoo, currently the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, also called for a reauthorization of a science authorization law known as America COMPETES. The most recent reauthorization expired in 2013.