Digital Divide 2.0

Why Clinton And Trump Need To Talk About Technology At The Next Debate

Technology is central to our lives. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the candidates.

By Kish Rajan

This week’s debate between vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine was the second time we’ve seen candidates come together on the national stage to discuss the issues. For the second time, technology was basically left out of the conversation.

I guess that shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. This year’s election, more than any other I can remember, has been more about emotion than substance. The most important issues seem to be getting pushed to the sidelines in favor of personal jabs.

But I can’t help feeling disappointed. These debates have been a real missed opportunity. Tech is quickly becoming the driver of our economy. According to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs are growing at 13% per year, faster than any other sector. Tech jobs pay some of the highest wages, and for every new tech job, 4.3 more jobs are created in other fields thanks to the multiplier effect, according to the Bay Area Council.

At the same time, tech is decimating some industries and forever changing the nature of work. As technology makes everything from buying our groceries to writing news stories easier, traditional jobs are being lost and they’re not coming back. This is something our leaders need to face head on.

In the first debate, Hillary Clinton made a glancing reference to the power of innovation to create new jobs, but it was far from enough.

There’s a lot at stake in this election. In order to help grow the technology industry and protect workers, we need to modernize tax policies, come up with new strategies for education and workforce development, increase access to capital to start new businesses and reform regulations. These issues need to become part of the conversation.

Immigration is top of mind for many tech entrepreneurs but not in the way the candidates talk about it. Silicon Valley doesn’t want to keep immigrants out; it wants to let them in. The leaders in the Bay Area want to make it easier for entrepreneurs and engineers to cross our borders so new companies can be founded and others can hire the best and the brightest, no matter what country they’re from.

Then there is the sharing economy — I call it the Personal Enterprise Economy — which is growing in leaps and bounds. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit are remaking the economy in incredibly fundamental ways. A job is no longer for life; that’s just reality. These new companies are opening up new opportunities for people who may be underemployed or who just want more flexibility to control their own work life.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need regulations here to protect both workers and consumers. The choices the government makes about those regulations will have an enormous impact on whether or not this industry and its workers thrive.

And this new, tech-driven, future of work means that we need to rethink things such as tax breaks and benefits. Obamacare was a good start in that it gave everyone the chance to get health care without having to stay beholden to a specific employer. But we need to go further. More benefits need to be portable, sticking to the worker not the employer. We need to talk about things like wage insurance and evolving our tax code to reflect the changing nature of work.

There’s also the digital divide, a serious problem that is rarely publicly discussed among elite politicians. While at the top end of the economic scale people have access to iPhones, lightning-fast broadband and the newest whiz-bang wearables, too often people at the bottom are struggling with dial-up service if they have any access to the internet at all.

In order for this lower-income group to thrive, they need to be able to have steady broadband access, not just to be able to keep in touch with loved ones and take advantage of growing entertainment opportunities. This is much-needed technology that will allow them to apply for jobs, get online training and access benefits that are increasingly going digital.

Closing this divide needs to be a priority for our government. It would be great if our next president acknowledged this and talked about ways to fix the problem.

Technology can help create new jobs and move the economy forward but it can also leave people behind in its wake. We need to be dealing with both sides of the issue.

There are two more debates on the schedule. I’ll be watching next Sunday’s town hall closely to see if the candidates talk more about technology. I hope they will. Personal insults and clever one-liners are great for reality TV. But they don’t help much when it comes to leadership.

The Demise of Google Fiber Shows There Are No Easy Answers in Telecom

By Mike Montgomery

When Google rolled out its fiber business in 2012, it was an appealingly easy solution for a difficult situation. Like a fairy godmother solving all of our problems with a sweep of her wand, Google was going to bring blazing fast 1 gigabit speed to homes across the country and, for as little as $70 per month, people were going to get access to Autobahn speeds previously only dreamed of on our American Superhighway.

With its fat wallet of cash, Google seemed well-positioned to do the expensive work of buying failed municipal broadband networks as well as building some of their own new networks, tearing up roads and sidewalks and laying its fiber in select neighborhoods. Kansas City, where Google piloted the fiber program, suddenly seemed poised to become the next internet startup hotspot.

But now it turns out the task was too much even for Google. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is “rethinking” its fiber rollout plans in the face of mounting costs.  Confronted with the reality of today’s regulatory environment, the company appears to now be leapfrogging the morass entirely, jumping ahead to advanced wireless technologies – which could deliver speeds up to 10 gigabits per second – viewed by many as the broadband “game changer” for connectivity and speed.

Google Fiber is a well-intentioned idea. We need more people to have better internet access so they can get the most out of the growing digital economy. Work is increasingly being done over the internet as companies move to cloud technology. Even applying for a job now usually requires internet access. Watching TV, shopping, and connecting with loved ones are all things increasingly being done online. Those who don’t have access or are operating from networks in need of modernization are at a severe disadvantage in today’s digital world.

But as Google is discovering, laying new miles of fiber is far from easy.

Read the full article here.

In Tech-Driven Economy, FCC Needs to Step Up

By: Mike Montgomery

It’s clear that technology is a key driver of prosperity in today’s modernizing economy. Trillions of dollars in economic activity flow through the networks which make up the internet, making America’s digital economy the envy of the world. Networks are redefining the services people consume and the income people derive. For example, according to a Pew survey, 72 percent of Americans have used a sharing or on-demand service.

That’s why the Federal Communications Commission has never been more important. From last year’s Net Neutrality rules to current proceedings about set-top boxes, internet privacy and business services, FCC rules are shaping the future of the internet – and the broader economy that it fuels. Whether you agree or disagree with these regulations, everyone agrees they will have a profound impact.

That is why it’s so disconcerting to see the FCC disconnected from the economic impact of its decisions. In a report he published in July, the FCC’s very own former chief economist, Gerald Faulhaber, Ph.D., raised alarms about the agency’s dangerous turn away from economic analysis in its decision making.

In the report, Dr. Faulhaber asks: Why do the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all conduct stringent cost-benefit analyses on their decisions while the FCC does not?

The FCC has simply become too important to the economy for it to fail to explore the economic impact of its decisions. For example, numerous economists warned the FCC that its decision to impose so-called Title II regulations on internet service providers, which treats today’s advanced broadband access in the same way as telephone services from generations ago, will have a negative impact on investment and innovation while not solving the issue we all want addressed: how to ensure that internet traffic is treated fairly across networks, regardless of where it comes from. Yet, when issuing its Open Internet Order, the FCC conducted no economic analysis of the impact its proposed rules would have on consumers, innovation or investment.

How is that possible?

The problems continue. The FCC is currently facing a major backlash from Congress, Hollywood and many innovators for its proposed new technology standards for set-top boxes.

Read the full article here.

How We Can Close California’s Digital Divide

By: Kish Rajan

California is the center of technological innovation. Our state is home to tech companies that are changing people’s lives all over the world. But there is still a small sliver of Californians, about 1.3 percent of the population, who live in areas where there isn’t access to the Internet, according to a recent study.

And about one in five people who have access don’t use the Internet. There are many different reasons why people don’t go online. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of adults who don’t use the Internet say they don’t find it relevant to their lives. Another 32 percent say they find the Internet too difficult to use.

This points to a real problem. The Internet today is about so much more than cat videos and social media. Don’t get me wrong — those things are great. But people can now use the Web to apply for jobs, sign up for health care and stay in touch with loved ones. People who believe the Internet is irrelevant, or too difficult to use, are increasingly isolating themselves from their communities and society as a whole.

This is the modern digital divide or as we call it, Digital Divide 2.0. Almost everyone has access to the Internet. Even people who may not have a broadband line to their house can access the Internet through their schools and libraries. According to a recent study by James E. Prieger, an associate professor of economics and public policy at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, access isn’t the biggest problem. He writes: “… the main barrier to increased adoption is not access but the value proposition for consumers.”

So what can be done to improve the value proposition of the Internet for the select few who are abstaining? One good fix would be to modernize our communications policies to focus on closing the Digital Divide 2.0. California’s communications laws actually encourage people to stay isolated on phone lines, which keeps them shut away from a wide world of information. We have to re-imagine the goal of communications policy, which in the 1950s began and ended with making sure people had access to a phone.

Read the full article here.

Hope For Startups: US Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Design Patent Dispute

By: Tim Sparapani

The annual tech startup and innovation festival held annually in Austin, Texas known as South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) has recently ended. While all the big tech companies were there strutting their stuff along with all the companies that are trying to reimagine themselves as tech companies, the real stars of the show are the start-ups. Tens of thousands of people attend annually to find or become the next big thing, which his why I applaud the US Supreme Court for giving those strivers and innovators a win this week by deciding to hear the design patent appeal in the five year old battle between Apple and Samsung.

More about the big guys in a minute and their fight, which I’ve written about before here: http://www.wirelessweek.com/article/2016/02/us-supreme-court-should-clarify-law-design-patents. But before we get there let’s talk about what’s at stake in the case for startups and why it is so important that the Supreme Court is revisiting the lower court’s mistaken ruling.

Turns out the big things all started out as small things and they all needed a lot of luck and lots of care and feeding to grow and prosper. Most especially, they needed to not have extraordinary and unnecessary barriers put in their place. Startups are like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The odds are already long that they will reach their goal. Any additional barrier put in their way, like a dam blocking a river, can exhaust the startup and rob it of its vitality thereby preventing it from reaching its goal. The absolute last thing that a tech startup needs is to have to – after coming up with a great idea to take to the market, struggling to raise capital, forging a team and bringing a product to the market – fight unnecessarily with an incumbent about the design of their product. But, unless the US Supreme Court steps in and reverses the lower court’s decision, that’s likely to be an all too common scenario for startups. As soon as the next exciting startups get some momentum going they are likely to face a new breed of patent trolls that could halt their progress entirely by waving about an alleged infringement of a design patent.

The long festering dispute between Apple and Samsung focuses on whether Samsung infringed design patents covering elements within Apple’s iPhone. In simplest terms, a design patent historically has been intended to protect and incentivize designers and inventors creative and innovative work. The US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals unwisely ruled in these big kids’ dispute that, despite the fact that tens of thousands of patents are jammed into every smartphone, an alleged infringement of just one design for one of many elements of the device itself can lead to extraordinary damage awards against the infringer.

Read the full article here.

Truth about our crumbling infrastructure is the tweets

By: Kish Rajan

Sometimes, it takes a tweet to speak the truth: Bay Area residents must recognize our crumbling infrastructure.

Last week, commuters complaining about delays were surprised when Taylor Huckaby, a social media manager for @SFBart, did the politically unthinkable. When faced with hundreds of tweets, he was frank and honest about the financial and structural challenges facing the public transit agency, and the Bay Area’s infrastructure at large.

Such is political discussion in 2016: Honesty is surprising and highlights something we’d rather ignore. Few comprehend that our public infrastructure is woefully outdated and ignored.

In 2000, the total population of the Bay Area was just a little more than 6.7 million people. In 2010, it had risen to around 7.2 million, despite the Great Recession. And in 2014, that number jumped to around 7.6 million, representing nearly a million more people in the nine-county region in about 14 years.

And while the tax base expanded, there hasn’t been a corresponding improvement in infrastructure development. When Chronicle City Hall reporter Heather Knight visited San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, housing the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco County Jail, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney’s office, she was shocked at what she saw. The hall, with peeling paint, stained ceilings and evidence of rats, sat mere blocks from startups working in renovated lofts — and offering free lunch.

Read the full article here.

Utilities panel has too much on its plate

By: Kish Rajan

Assemblyman Mike Gatto is taking a bold step with his proposed constitutional amendment to obliterate the California Public Utilities Commission. Such a drastic action may not pass into law, but it kick-starts a critical conversation about the agency’s future.

Gatto cites concerns about the PUC’s handling of a string of problems related to energy utilities, including the San Onofre nuclear plant shutdown and the San Bruno gas line explosion. The commission is also deeply engaged in overseeing California’s massive shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

If regulating the energy industry wasn’t enough of a chore, utilities are not the only sector under the PUC’s purview. The commission has divisions overseeing railroads, light rail and transit; taxis and ride-share services; and water and sewer systems.

And its jurisdiction over telecommunications is largely overlooked. As the center of the innovation economy, California relies heavily upon strong telecommunications infrastructure. But the commission is failing to keep pace with the fast-changing industry, holding back critical investments to providing more and better technology to more Californians, particularly low-income citizens on the other side of the digital divide.

According to the Milken Institute, San Jose and San Francisco are the best-performing cities in the nation for job growth, wage gains and technological advancement. While that is laudable, what is the PUC’s plan to extend that prosperity beyond the Bay Area and into every region across California?

The pathway to greater prosperity is through innovation and investment. That is driven by consumer demand supported by forward-looking thinking, rather than outdated regulatory mandates.

U.S. Supreme Court Should Clarify the Law of Design Patents

By: Tim Sparapani

It’s been 120 years since the US Supreme Court last heard a case regarding design patents. Now it has the opportunity to do so again, and it should, because technology has advanced yet the interpretation of laws protecting innovations has become ill fitting and out of date.

Samsung recently agreed to pay $548 million in damages to Apple following several appeals regarding claims that Samsung infringed on some of Apple’s design patents. Samsung has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and address the issues it raises that extend well beyond smartphones.

This legal clash of tech titans over whether Samsung infringed Apple’s design patents spawned extended debate over what is protected by a design patent and may lead – if the dispute is reviewed and precedent set – to a more solid framework for design patent protections and dispute resolution clarity in future cases.

For more than five years, these companies slugged it out concerning the limitations of design patents, how to determine whether patented designs were infringed, and the proper remedies.  The case is notable, not just because of the size and importance of these companies, but also because of the precedents that this case sets for our digital age when hardware and software are merging together in novel and unforeseen ways.

Rarely are cases so well teed up for the Supreme Court to offer crucial guidance in an area of law that has become so muddled.  Given the extensive motions, trials, remands and appeals between Apple and Samsung this case seems primed for Supreme Court review because the legal issues have been highly refined allowing the Court to issue narrow decisions on legal grounds that nevertheless have broad impact.

Read the full article here. 

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