Unfinished Business: Technology Policy Wins in 2014 and Wishes for 2015

by DeVan Hankerson on January 31, 2015

Capitol Hill - wallyg

The 114th Congress is now far more Republican than it has been since 2006, which is the last time there was a Republican majority. The additional GOP seats in both the House and the Senate, particularly on committees handling technology policy issues, generate a lot of interest among technology issue advocates, think tanks, and others in Washington and beyond who want to know:  What does this political shift mean for technology policy?

113th to 114th Congress Member Turnover

Late last year, TechFreedom hosted a conversation with leading experts, moderated by The Hill’s Julian Hattem, to get some early predictions. MMTC’s new President and CEO, Kim M. Keenan, joined the conversation, along with David Redl, Chief Counsel of House Sub-committee on Communications and Technology; Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; and Berin Szoka, President of Tech Freedom.

We thought it would be a great idea to revisit those predictions as the first month of the year comes to a close.

Tech Policy Issues Will Still Be Moved in Congress

The discussants suggested that having a Republican majority in Congress will not likely impact movement on high-priority technology policy issues in 2015. “Technology policies are not the most partisan issues to begin with, unlike some of the other lightning rod issues,” said Rob Atkinson.

“There are a lot of things that could be done in tech policy that are subject to bipartisan compromise,” said Berin Szoka. “There are some things that are harder that would really make a legacy for this Congress, like a new Communications Act.” Well, so far so good – because it appears that the promise of the modernization of the Communications Act might actually start in 2015.

David Redl mentioned that “there were six bipartisan bills pending in the Senate, and they were all unanimous or passed on voice votes out of the House. One of these bills was the E-LABEL Act, which was passed by both chambers in identical form, and passed by the President in November. The STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 was also passed and enacted in early December.”

“The prevailing idea should not be that technology is a threat.  The focus should be on outcomes that first diminish the digital divide and ensure that more American communities, including low-income communities, are willing to transition offline engagement with public and private institutions to online engagement,” shared Kim Keenan.

Last year reminded the nation that Americans’ reliance on the Internet is still relatively new, with assorted growing pains.  In some cases, these growing pains have proved to be very costly. High-profile private data breaches at large retailers, banking institutions, and many other businesses; the glitch-ridden launch of healthcare.gov; and the persistent absence of women and minorities in Silicon Valley all demonstrated last year that the nation and world are using trial and error when it comes to the technology explosion.  The conversations on updating the Communications Act bring hope for progress.

In 2014, diversity reports revealed the shocking but unsurprising reality that Silicon Valley boards and staff do not reflect available American talent.  Other headlines underscored the business costs associated with the chronic exclusion of women and ethnically diverse talent. The most glaring example came from the June Apple developers conference with the announcement of the Apple Healthkit app that “forgot” women even existed.  Tech companies have begun actively working to address the problem, the boldest of which is Intel’s $300 million Diversity In Technology Initiative.

Maintaining Bipartisan Optimism

Given the importance of data security policy, privacy policy, and diverse employment inclusion, the outlook for policymakers in the 114th Congress should be optimistic, and the public should share a similar stance.  Our optimism should be rooted in the aspiration that, despite a Congress that is generally divided on most issues, we will be able to move the legislative needle on technology policy.

As a country, we are experiencing an economic renaissance that only an innovation economy and its extraordinary opportunities can provide.  It is far more productive for policymakers and consumers to embrace the digital future with gusto, precisely because of its prominence. This should be the way forward when it comes to sound technology policy.  The same holds true when it comes to digital inclusion.

So a charge to the 114th Congress is to remember that the goal posts keep changing.  Striving for bipartisanship on issues related to consumer education and protection, improved privacy protections, and greater digital inclusion should drive focus for both sides of the aisle.

Watch the full video of the TechFreedom discussion:

The Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC, formerly Minority Media and Telecommunications Council) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving equal opportunity and civil rights in the mass media, telecommunications and broadband industries, and closing the digital divide. MMTC is generally recognized as the nation’s leading advocate for minority advancement in communications.

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