December 10, 2018

2019: ANOTHER BUSY YEAR FOR THE TECH AND TELECOM WORLD

Pamela Turner

For the tech and telecommunications industries, 2019 promises to be another busy year not only on the Hill and in the Executive Branch, but also at the state government level, in the courts, among consumer and other public interest groups, and in the international arena. These critical industries, which not only produce the devices, software and platforms for the digital world, but also deliver content and services to users, play a major role in our domestic economy and in ensuring continued U.S. dominance in the growing global digital marketplace.

These industries impact every aspect of our public and private lives and utilize technology and business practices that are complex and constantly evolving. For all the benefits the digital world provides, there are increasing dangers and questions which present serious challenges for not only the industry, but Congress and government entities at all levels. Thus far, Congress has had little success legislating in this area, leaving it to the states and courts to act on their own. Despite bipartisan agreement that “something needs to be done,” there has been no consensus on what that “something” should be. In some cases, potential solutions do create political stalemates, but in many instances, Congress is still unclear as to how policies will impact both the technology and the business. In the case of encryption, lawmakers have yet to reconcile the often-conflicting law enforcement needs and citizens’ right to privacy.

Some areas that could see action in the 116th Congress include privacy, election security, and extending broadband and 5G services, particularly in rural areas. Whether Congress does legislate or not, there is a growing interest in oversight of the tech world and we expect probing hearings on a wide range of issues to keep tech leaders in the spotlight. Obviously, the hearing opportunities increase with each anecdotal report of another major breach or challenge to a social media action.

As the House shifts to Democrat control, several members who will lead key tech committees have already expressed interest in hearings on election security, corporate breaches, supply chain issues, privacy, net neutrality, antitrust, consumer data protection, and broadband deployment. Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17) has introduced the Internet Bill of Rights, which has some interest among the new House Democratic Leadership. Although Senate changes will be less drastic, there is also strong oversight interest in that body, and several Senators are calling for a major effort to produce a privacy bill this year.

At the same time, the White House and various Executive Departments are conducting outreach efforts with industry and association groups to discuss federal efforts to protect digital networks and platforms, prevent and respond to attacks, and share information. Many of these discussions also involve ways to better understand and utilize newer technologies such as IOT and AI.

All of this suggests some serious challenges for the tech world, but it also presents opportunities. We are fortunate to have in this country some of the finest minds, most dedicated workers and forward-thinking individuals in the digital world. Our tech community, along with the associations they work with, are in the best position to offer information, advice and assistance to lawmakers in order to ensure that our digital future is secure, productive and safe for all Americans. By increasing efforts to educate, participate and update, the tech community will avoid becoming a “problem” and continue to be a “problem solver.”

First, take every opportunity to explain technology, business practices, safety procedures, and self-policing efforts, not only to legislators and regulators but to consumers as well. Some members are asking for these tutorials to better understand the issues and make decisions. Second, participate in the range of advisory committees, discussion groups and briefing opportunities that are becoming more frequent not only on the Hill and in the various Departments, but in other public forums as well. Many tech groups have already offered privacy and other legislative plans for discussion and deliberation. Engage in efforts to “work out” solutions where possible. Finally, don’t blindside or fail to update appropriate entities when a problem does occur, or there is a new development that warrants attention. Transparency and information sharing win big points.

The oversight (and possible legislative) landscape for tech and telecom businesses is long and detailed. In the weeks ahead we will do additional papers with more in-depth focus on several of these issues, like privacy and cybersecurity. In the meantime, following is a simple “tick list for tech” – a general overview of familiar concerns that could bring members of the tech community to the witness table in the next several months.

Tick List for Tech/Telecom

Privacy (more detailed report to follow)

High on the Hill to-do list; bipartisan support for action; several bills introduced this year; Pallone, Nadler, Wicker, Thune et al interest; several trade groups offered plans; focus on state-preemption, FTC authority, opt-in; International issues include GDPR, Privacy Shield, some trade discussions.

5G

Spectrum needs; part of broadband infrastructure discussion; NTIA report; FCC efforts

Monopoly/Antitrust

Marketplace concentration (current hearing focus on Amazon/Google, others)

Social Media

Everyone’s favorite target; fake news; discrimination vs political views; photo forgeries; use of consumer data; disinformation

Supply Chain

Huawei; defense base impact and danger for govt networks generally; big Democrat interest; DHS and Commerce roles

Consumer Data Protection/Use

Another favorite issue; deceptive practices, kids apps, several bills introduced (Internet Bill of Rights); breaches; encryption; FCC authority

Rural Broadband

Bipartisan interest in this area; concern re current FCC maps; Baldwin and Ernst bill; Wicker interest; spectrum; possible legislative action

IOT

Concerns re standards, privacy; House passed Latta/Welch bill directing DOC study; role in infrastructure

AI

National Security Commission on AI to report by 2020; impact on workplace; who designs  algorithms; Hurd and Kelly (Il) interest, facial recognition; autonomous drones; need regulations and standards; Chinese want to dominate in this area

Facial Recognition/Biometrics

Concern re mis-identities, bias, and privacy; Microsoft offering suggestions

Net Neutrality

A perennial; several Democrats want to reinstate after FCC repealed; some Republicans suggesting new law; members asking if wireless providers throttle ISPs

Campaign Security

BIG issue, especially heading into 2020 cycle; DHS and intel agencies working with states; Sullivan/Klobuchar want State Dept to work with allies; Lankford/Wyden interest; possible candidate for legislative action

Encryption

Perennial “tough one” pitting law enforcement v right to privacy; Australia enacted bill to require back-door

Cyber Agency Reorganization

DHS now has CISA (old NPPD renamed to underscore emphasis on cyber); DHS/DOD/NSA/Cyber Command along w DOJ, DOC and State all coordinating efforts in this area

Infrastructure

Interest in making sure broadband is part of any infrastructure effort; 5G; state government role; cost (who pays); IOT impact

Telecommunications Issues

Possible renewal of Satellite TV Extension and Localism Act (STELA) which expires in 2019 and allows satellite TV providers to send distant broadcast signals; retransmission consent fee changes; regulatory status of text messaging at FCC (is it info service or telecom service)

Marketplace Changes

House E&C (and others) will continue to review changes in telecom market in last two decades; online communication increase; streaming content; new invests in content/programming

And Don’t Forget the Rest of the World

Numerous trade and other international discussions concerning tech including talks w China (currently in 90 day hiatus); talks focus on intellectual property protection; tech transfer; cybertheft (Lighthizer point man in these discussions); issue w Google work in China; China wants to be world leader in AI, quantum computing, cloud storage; GDPR issue w EU; Privacy Shield review and update; supply chain issues; Paris Agreement on Cybersecurity (US didn’t sign but US companies did); election hacking; human rights; possible EU taxes on tech companies.

Pam Turner

Pam focuses on issues involving technology, telecommunications, cybersecurity, homeland security, and defense. She is skilled at developing strategies to address both legislative and regulatory needs.