The new administration will have an opportunity to reevaluate policies that affect innovation and technological development. Going forward, it will be crucial to determine how federal policies can promote broadband buildout, spur investment in intelligent infrastructure, encourage research and development, and advance a host of other actions that have the potential to improve productivity and the U.S. economy. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Technology Policy Institute hosted a morning of expert panel discussions at the National Press Club on how the incoming administration can accelerate the pace of innovation in the U.S. economy.
ITIF President Robert Atkinson opened the day suggesting that with technology more central to our lives than ever, people are very interested to see how the Trump administration will approach innovation policy, especially given the uncertainty over who will be a part of the administration and what the president-elect’s policy positions are—particularly after some controversial statements on trade and encryption. Atkinson then outlined ITIF’s recommendations for how the new administration can spur innovation, from appointing a chief innovation officer in each agency to reviewing the impact of new regulations on innovation. TPI President Scott Wallsten also outlined their own recommendations, noting that overall, it is essential to recognize the unique nature of innovation as a global phenomenon.
The first panel explored information technology and Internet policy priorities for the new administration. A main focus of the discussion was the relationship between the United States and the European Union and the flow of data between them. As Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen noted, the United States and Europe have fundamentally different views about privacy: while Americans see it as a matter of liberty, Europeans view it in terms of dignity. However, it is not necessary for every country to conceive of privacy in the exact same way to be able to share data, and permitting cross-border data flow is crucial for the global economy. Ohlhausen said that the Privacy Shield agreement is an effort to create an interoperable system that allows for these two different approaches, but there is still work to be done to make sure it can be applied as comprehensively as is necessary.
Atkinson observed that the next administration has already demonstrated a stronger emphasis on trade enforcement issues, while showing a skepticism about trade policies overall. Ambassador David Gross, partner at Wiley Rein LLC, agreed that there is likely to be more aggressive trade enforcement over the next four years. Shane Tews, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, pointed out that the “zeroes and ones don’t see geography,” and certain countries have recently demonstrated a disturbing willingness to move towards protectionist policies. It will be vital for the United States to keep an eye on similar trends worldwide, particularly as policymakers are forced to discuss and rule on issues of international and domestic cybersecurity. Ambassador Gross predicted that the next administration will have to lead several tough negotiations regarding global data flows and enforcement, particularly because cybersecurity concerns could be an opening for some governments to restrict human rights or freedom of speech on the Internet.
The panelists also discussed the emerging view in Europe that as companies rely more and more on data, it needs to be assessed through an antitrust lens. Commissioner Ohlhausen made it clear though that once we start putting non-competition values into antitrust analysis, where do we stop?
Turning to more domestic matters, the panel agreed that one of the tech industry’s persistent problems is that it has a reputation of benefiting the coasts, but not the middle of the country. Commissioner Ohlhausen noted how important it is to make clear the economic benefits of innovation, and Ambassador Gross pointed out that establishing an ecosystem for entrepreneurs that stretches in between the two coasts will help give people the right tools to grow local tech industries. (For more on how tech impacts every congressional district in America, read ITIF’s recent report.)
The second panel focused on telecom priorities for the new administration. Overall, panelists agreed that there is a lot of uncertainty ahead. The central question moving forward is how the administration will address Title II and net neutrality. The bottom line, said David Goldman, chief counsel for communications in the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, is that the regulators’ focus needs to be how these issues impact consumers, and that Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will not accept any deal that harms consumers. Carolyn Brandon of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business said that the appetite from industry for swinging from one extreme to another with each new president isn't there, and that we should focus instead of legislation to set long-term guidance.
The panel also discussed spectrum and the allocation of licensed vs. unlicensed, and largely cautioned against becoming overenthusiastic about new technologies. Bryan Tramont, managing partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, said that there has been too much of an emphasis on unlicensed spectrum as of late and a more balanced approach would better utilize both technologies. Goldman suggested that one of the best things the next administration could do for telecommunications would be do is shorten time between when spectrum is identified and getting it into the market.
There are a lot of unknowns regarding both the administration and the future of these technologies in the marketplace, which makes it difficult to predict what will happen. Overall, all panelists urged bipartisan and interagency cooperation on IT and telecommunications issues.