Last week, the president-elect convened a highly publicized “Tech Summit” at Trump Tower, inviting industry titans ranging from Elon Musk to Tim Cook to Larry Page to the table.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s posture towards the tech sector was often quite hostile. He declined to speak of tech as a source of American job creation, and he instead warned of a mounting “bubble” in the industry last May. He embraced ideas that conflict deeply with Silicon Valley’s ethos—racial profiling, a religious test at the border, cutting back on free speech and privacy—and called for other policies, such as mass deportations and trade wars, that could bring US innovation to its knees. Most starkly, Mr. Trump directed personalized attacks at some of the tech sector’s marquee players on the campaign trail. He accused Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos of violating antitrust laws. He called for a boycott of Apple’s products.
Having worked as secretary Hillary Clinton’s policy advisor for tech and IP issues during the campaign, I was pleasantly surprised—although admittedly, somewhat skeptical—when Donald Trump extended his olive branch last week. He reportedly told the tech executives in the room: “I’m here to help you folks do well.”
I hope the president-elect was sincere in that commitment. But it takes more than saying the right words to create an environment in which our tech and internet companies—big, small, and not yet launched—continue to thrive. It takes having the right rules, policies, and values. Over the past 18 months, in helping Secretary Clinton shape her agenda for this portion of the economy, I had dozens of meetings with representatives from established tech companies and startups, as well as with stakeholders who care deeply about the future of US innovation: academics, privacy advocates, and community leaders. What I learned is that to accomplish what the president-elect has pledged, you need to set the right agenda. Here’s some of what that entails.
First, the next Administration must have an aggressive strategy to develop the human capital necessary to power the digital economy in this country. That means educating our people in computer science and STEM education from an early age. Hillary Clinton set a goal that within five years, every student in America should have an opportunity to learn computer science. It means making it easier for students to pursue streamlined, tech-focused higher education pathways after high school, such as nanodegrees and accelerated learning programs for computer coding. It means having ongoing skills programs for older workers, and better communication mechanisms between firms and job trainers so that people are getting credentials that employers are actually seeking. And it means embracing high-skilled immigration. If talented students from abroad come to American universities and obtain advanced degrees in STEM fields, we should be bringing them into our economy, not pushing them out.
Second, the next administration needs a plan for promoting widespread entrepreneurship and inclusion in the digital economy. Tech shouldn’t just be a Silicon Valley story; we should see similar innovation clusters emerging across our country, creating millions of jobs as well as products and apps that consumers demand. One policy Clinton proposed in that vein was to support incubators and accelerators for 50,000 new entrepreneurs in underserved areas. Another was to increase access to capital for small and mediums-sized businesses and startups, especially for minority and female entrepreneurs.
Third, there must be a commitment to connectivity. We should settle for nothing less than universal, high-speed broadband for every household. To ensure people can get online through free wifi, we should replicate and extend programs like e-rate, which was successful at hooking up public schools and libraries to the internet, to places like train stations, recreation centers, and airports. And the next administration should do what it can through spectrum-allocation policies and public investments to help foster the evolution from 4G to 5G wireless and other next-generation systems. Governments around the world are investing billions in commercializing 5G technologies. American companies should lead that charge, not trail behind.
Finally, helping tech succeed means keeping the internet open, as well as private and secure for users. That begins with embracing the FCC’s net neutrality rules, the staple of a free and open internet, rather than seeking to undo them. It means ensuring that users—all of us—continue to trust our internet-based communications platforms. The next administration should up its investments in cybersecurity, seek laws that are protective of individual privacy, and refrain from mandates that would make encryption vulnerable to malicious hacking. When it comes to terrorism and social media, the government should work with the tech sector to stop recruitment online. The answer is not to shut down portions of the internet; it is to develop effective counter-messaging, track terrorists’ patterns online, and encourage tech companies to enforce their own terms of service.
These are just some of the ideas we proposed during Hillary Clinton’s campaign to support our tech sector, leverage technology to create good-paying jobs on Main Street, and encourage continued innovation in our economy. Donald Trump did not support many of these ideas on the campaign trail. Hopefully, his recent Tech Summit was the beginning of a new chapter.
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