With all that 2020 has thrown at us, America’s tech companies are helping us cope. America’s technology companies are keeping us connected to work and learn, developing the next cures and treatments, and helping the disadvantaged. Tech will also help us to rebuild our economy and strengthen America’s competitiveness. But today, we are witnessing domestic and foreign efforts to hamper tech growth and dislodge America’s leadership.
We need rational and balanced policies that promote American tech leadership and keep our economy and workers competitive in a global economy. Recently, the Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) convened policymakers and industry leaders at an event, American Innovators; America’s Next Tech Upgrade to unveil the Chamber’s 2021 technology agenda to accomplish just that – accelerate economic growth, create jobs, and maximize the digital tools at our disposal.
Policymakers and thought leaders at the event made clear that smart regulations, not ill-equipped and outdated regulations, are necessary to provide the right environment to support an innovative digital economy. “The list of issues that people are pouring into the vessel of antitrust include topics where I don’t think we should necessarily expect the freely functioning market to work. And that is of course the space where regulation steps in,” said Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips.
As we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband connectivity is essential for enabling telemedicine, smart cities, and distanced learning. Despite sharp spikes in internet usage and broadband utilization, U.S. networks have met the demand without any major technical issues. Ed Gillespie, Senior Executive Vice President of External & Legislative Affairs at AT&T, attributes this resilience to a light regulatory touch. “I say that because we saw a contrast in Europe, where you did see a slowing in the networks. We believe that was the result of a much more heavy regulatory approach and regime. We’re not opposed to regulation, but it should be done in a way that allows for private investment to continue and to expand the broadband networks.”
Still, 18 million Americans lack access to high-speed broadband, and connecting these unserved communities relies on targeted funding, permit streaming, and smart regulation. At its core is an effective partnership between the public and private sectors. Gillespie agrees, adding, ”For American families today to not be left behind, there needs to be universal broadband. In order for that broadband connectivity to be effective, it needs to be continuously led by private sector investment. But the private sector alone cannot meet this challenge.”
Smart regulation is also foundational to a data privacy strategy that promotes public health and safety, protects consumers, and reassures business. Both industry and policymakers at the event echoed the importance of establishing a federal data privacy law and building public trust.
“We need a clear, consistent national standard, not a patchwork of different rules at the state level,” said Christina Montgomery, Chief Privacy Officer at IBM. “Privacy protection shouldn’t vary based on where someone lives, or from where they access the internet.”
Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) agrees, “We have a responsibility to ensure consumers have a clear understanding as to what happens to their data…We need federal legislation that provides a national standard of protection, no matter what state you’re in.” Moreover, she emphasized expedience in passing such a law. “We need to lead as global standards are set, otherwise someone else sets them for us, and we are clearly falling behind in that effort.”
Jerry Jones, Executive Vice President at LiveRamp, highlighted the bipartisan and public-private momentum on this important issue: “…[T]he benefits of a U.S. federal data law are so compelling for our country that we’re willing to work very hard in a collaborative fashion to help Congress find the necessary and sufficient common ground to finally get something done.”
From a policy perspective, data privacy is another example of when smart regulation trumps antitrust. “I don’t think if we introduced more competition in the market, privacy would necessarily result on its own,” Commissioner Phillips noted. “Privacy, at the end of the day, has a lot to do with closing off access to information in particular by firms, and that may be good for privacy, but it might be bad for competition.”
We also need smart regulation when it comes to keeping pace with the rapid tech-enabled transformations in transportation and the workforce, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the transportation sector, policymakers can facilitate the safe development and deployment of drones, urban air mobility, and automated vehicles by safely removing barriers to innovation, ensuring regulatory clarity, educating the public, and maintaining U.S. leadership in the field. Similarly, technology is expanding—not replacing—opportunities for Americans to work. C_TEC argues that a 21st century technology workforce depends on the gig economy, modern immigration laws, continuous upskilling, and the deployment of data centers.
Policymakers and industry leaders agree – American innovation depends on a close and cooperative public-private partnership. Business-led innovation has been at the forefront of America’s economic growth and strength for decades. It has been a lifeline during the pandemic for millions of Americans and will be critical to charting our path forward. Smart regulation can invigorate and incentivize business while protecting and enabling consumers. Antitrust is not the right tool for the job.