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Forbes: Why Civic Tech Is The Next Big Thing

By: Mike Montgomery

As recently as ten years ago, government was seen as the black plague of the tech world. Bureaucracies move slowly. Governments have limited resources. Convincing municipalities to spend money on anything can be a Herculean task. Venture capitalists recommended entrepreneurs stick to the private sector where budgets are looser and there’s a more diverse customer base.

 That’s beginning to change. Civic tech is now a hot space for tech investments. Governments are waking up to the need to bring their technology into the 21st century. It’s no longer good enough to have documents hidden in hundreds of filing cabinets and reports printed out on dot-matrix printers. Citizens are increasingly demanding transparency from their elected officials and too often, governments have no way to provide a clear window into how or why taxpayer money is being spent.

Read the full article here.

So Far Net Neutrality Hasn’t Broken The Internet

Shares of Verizon — the future home of this publication — a company viscerally opposed to net neutrality, are down a fraction in a down market. Investors, it seems, aren’t pricing much downside into net neutrality in the immediate aftermath of its enaction.

There is a certain irony to the Verizon point. Verizon brought the last suit against net neutrality that led to the new rules. Title II is in no small way due to the actions of that ISP.

Legal challenges to net neutrality are on a fast track and should be wrapped up, perhaps, by the end of 2015. The key aspect to an accelerated court schedule is that the market needs certainty on the matter. If the FCC’s rules are overturned, things change. If the agency succeeds in court, things don’t change.

Following the FCC’s victory to put down a stay of its rules, Wheeler said that the decision “give[s] broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.” ISPs would rather have it another way.

Aside from legal threats, another potentiality looms for net neutrality: A new administration’s FCC changing the rules. That fact adds another wrinkle to the current presidential election cycle — who wins will be able to either maintain, or shape, net neutrality policy in a different direction.

Congressional action, of course, remains a possibility.

Mike Montgomery of CALinnovates, a technology interest group, told TechCrunch that if the party in the White House changes, things could rapidly shift:

A Republican President will surely make the appointment of a new FCC Chairman a priority, and that new Chairman would likely take a sledgehammer to the Open Internet Order as her or his first order of business. […] The new President’s appointment of a new FCC Chairman will shift the balance of power at the Commission, turning a 3-2 Democratic majority into a Democratic minority, thus providing the votes to either completely overturn the imposition of Title II or drastic forbearance, leading to a theoretical ‘wild west’ that would lack any clear rules of the road, which would create a nightmare scenario for consumers, startups and the greater business community, and investors.

Montgomery said that if the net neutrality rules lose in court, it could lead to “a situation where fast lanes, blocking, and throttling will be squarely back on the table.”

In short, here we are, as expected. Welcome back to net neutrality.

CALinnovates’ Comments Regarding The “Sharing” Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop

June 19, 2015

CALinnovates appreciates the opportunity to provide comment following the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) workshop on the sharing economy. We are encouraged that the FTC recognizes the significant economic contribution that this rapidly growing sector is having and will continue to have as it expands opportunities and creates economic impact for people to engage in and receive benefit from the app-based economy consumers currently enjoy.

Given the Commission’s expertise as a competition and consumer protection agency, along with its significant economic expertise, the FTC is uniquely equipped to examine this important topic by convening the right contributors from business, stakeholders, academia, and the general public. The FTC is the only entity that can review – case-by-case – and deter potential challenges to the flourishing of this market that may be anti-consumer or anti-competitive. Beginning with this workshop, the FTC can also recognize that the innovative companies comprising the sharing economy will advance consumers’ welfare while simultaneously disrupting entrenched markets and mindsets.

CALinnovates represents companies across the Golden State that are improving industries and expanding economic opportunities for Californians through innovative technologies. Sharing economy companies are our partners, including Transportation Network Companies like Sidecar, Shuddle, and Uber. The evolution of the economic and entrepreneurial landscape is accelerating to the benefit of the economy and consumers. We find ourselves in a golden era of the new economy, or what we refer to as the personal enterprise economy.

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The sharing economy is an economic and social reality, embraced by tens of millions of Americans including the electorate’s largest generation, Millennials. According to a survey by Zogby Analytics commissioned by CALinnovates, more than half of Millennials, age 18-34, have used sharing services like Uber, Sidecar, Lyft and Airbnb. Fifty-four percent of Millennials say they expect ride and home sharing services to become even more popular in the coming years. Popularity isn’t the only appeal of the sharing economy, either. This industry has turned itself into a powerhouse job creator, accounting for 466,000 jobs in 2012 when just four short years earlier there were none.

The sharing economy is one of the contributing factors driving 2015’s emergence from the recession. CALinnovates encourages the FTC to embrace the sharing economy and encourage its development for the benefit of consumers throughout the U.S., not just in California. The FTC can advance the public interest and ensure the realization of this golden era of personal enterprise economy by taking at least four actions. The FTC should:

– Prevent the novel application of existing regulations or the creation of new rules that are de facto incumbency protection schemes by unmasking parochial or local or state interests that are anti-consumer;
-Block the institution or application of rules that are justified in the name of public safety or welfare but are applied unevenly and primarily as a protection of monopolists or entrenched market participants;
-Stand against local scams, tying arrangements or similar agreements between local businesses to limit market access, or similar market distortions by incumbent interests; and,
-Deter and prevent scams against tourists or business visitors to a locality

The FTC is a unique actor and it bears a great responsibility for ensuring the flourishing of the sharing economy, not just policing its leading companies. CALinnovates assumes that the success of these new companies is closely aligned with the public interest. Our sharing economy companies are driving down prices, advancing individual and community safety, fostering innovations that increase rather than erode privacy, and delivering additional value to consumers in the form of enhanced services and platforms. The FTC can act as a sort of super cop or appellate court to review anew actions in states or localities that are intended to forestall sharing economy companies’ entrance into market and detract from the growth of this economic sector.
Local businesses everywhere often build strong relationships with state and local governments to advance their interests. This usually leads to mutual benefits; the companies have champions in government that review proposals in light of whether they will advance or harm those businesses while elected officials may be able to claim some credit for job growth and local or regional economic expansion.

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The FTC should be on the lookout for de facto incumbency protection schemes that harm rather than advance the public interest by using these relationships to thwart competition. When businesses that have been successful over years face new competition, they may resort to relying on those political relationships to fend off challengers. One likely outcome is that the local businesses, which may be campaign supporters of elected officials, seek legislative or regulatory burdens that could slow or stop their new competitors. Every business wants to succeed and companies facing new challenges to their market positions are likely to request assistance from politicians that are tied into their communities. The result can be the imposition of laws, rules, fees and similar burdens that are designed to protect local businesses from competition rather than advance the public’s interest, which is more properly measured by how much benefit is produced for each individual consumer and the public writ large.

The FTC should also be watchful for novel application of existing regulations or the establishment of new regulatory burdens that are justified in the name of protecting consumers but are intended to thwart new competitors in the market. For example, incumbents argue that regulators should not allow new competitors to enter the ridesharing marketplace until the government has completely reformed the incumbent industry by solving all the existing problems. In many municipalities, regulators have required sharing economy companies to comply with all the regulatory regimes in place for incumbents even when they don’t make sense or they haven’t been applied for a lengthy amount of time. For example, in California, the Department of Motor Vehicles threatened to apply an ancient, little-used law that would have required rideshare drivers to display commercial license plates on their personal vehicles at all times, even when the drivers were using the vehicles for personal use.

These regulations among many others wielded at the behest of entrenched market participants could be a sword against competition rather than a shield to protect the public. These provisions may take many forms and be advanced in the name of increasing public welfare, safety, health, privacy or consumer protection. The FTC should be watchful for the indicia of regulations being misused. Where an old, un-utilized or rarely utilized regulation is dusted off and applied to a sharing economy company the FTC ought to examine not just the regulation itself but also the context in which it is suddenly being applied. Similarly, the enactment of a new law or regulation by a state or locality that deters competition rather than creating equal responsibilities for market participants should be scrutinized closely and with skepticism.

We all agree that advancing consumer protection and public safety are important policy goals. Sharing economy companies invest a great deal of their capital ensuring that members of their communities are safe. In many respects, the technological innovations brought to bear provide consumers with advanced safety that is greater than is offered by incumbents in the market who, heretofore, lacked any impetus to compete on safety and consumer protection. Sharing economy

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Companies know that in order to succeed commercially, they must positively impact the customers and communities they serve, conducting their business in ways that exceed public expectations that were established by market incumbents’ behavior, services and offerings. CALinnovates expects that the FTC will be able to identify the pro-safety and pro-consumer protection advances achieved by the rise of sharing economy companies and calculate their value when evaluating the sharing economy phenomenon as a whole. As a matter of routine practice, the FTC should measure and include in its analysis for the unusual advances made in these important public policy matters produced by each sharing economy sector or company it scrutinizes.

Local businesses may resort to other anti-competitive actions to delay, deter or thwart competition from new sharing economy companies that want to enter a local or state market. Due to their entrenched nature, local businesses may be willing to team up with other local competitors to block market access to a new market entrant. They may partner with key customers or offer anti-competitive pricing or offerings to diminish the attractiveness of new market entrants. Some of these actions may benefit consumers in the short run, but taken to extremes, market collusion, tying arrangements and similar anti-competitive behaviors will ultimately harm the public interest. CALinnovates urges the FTC to be on the lookout for these market distortions that may have little national economic effect but may do great injury to local consumers in the long run.

Finally, CALinnovates believes the FTC can identify and take action against scams and other fraud perpetrated against tourists and business visitors to particular locations. The FTC is uniquely situated to overcome unfair or predatory pricing for tourists and other visitors, such as those traveling for business to a distant city. For decades visitors to American cities were sure to be left to the whims of businesses charging them a “tourist tax” and the FTC can help the sharing economy overcome either false or deceptive advertising, unfair pricing, or outright fraud. These examples were routine and consumers everywhere suffered due to local businesses not being challenged by true competition or required to provide actual transparency about pricing and services. Examples include:

a. a meterless taxi fare or one without a credit card machine,
b. driving through multiple zones in a city or taking a longer route to substantially increase a fare;
c. listing a hotel as near a major tourist site even though there was no easy route from the hotel to the site or the hotel was in a dangerous neighborhood or next to a freeway; or,
d. adding on unexpected, one-time hotel costs to bills while pricing.

Just as the FBI must occasionally police the police or the DOJ must occasionally police a local government agency when endemic discrimination is feared, so too must the FTC evaluate the appropriate value that should be produced for consumers and business customers in a truly free and fair local market. The FTC must divine what a market would look like absent local or state rules designed to lock in local

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monopolies, duopolies or collusive practices. Whether it be the imposition of additional fees on lodging, hidden taxes not stated for advertised rates, special surcharges or fees for transportation or the like, the FTC must be prepared to stand in the shoes of consumers and eliminate scams that harm consumers. Nearly every business traveler or tourist has experienced some of these upcharges. Information asymmetry is to blame; the local businesses have all the information and travelers have far less. The sharing economy, with its advanced transparency relative to that provided by incumbent local businesses regarding prices, services and offerings can help, but the FTC should actively police meritless surcharges, false advertising or hidden costs imposed by local businesses that harm consumers.

These technologies are adapting and adjusting to the market quicker than regulation can keep up, and it is the Commission’s responsibility to ensure that regulations are responsive to the business models, technologies and consumer behaviors emerging from these innovations. CALinnovates’ members want to work with regulators to create and adhere to contemporary and adaptable rules of the marketplace.

In order to do so, however, there must be clear and fair rules for both businesses and consumers, rules that apply equally to both legacy and upstart companies. Unfortunately, the legislative process isn’t designed to keep up with quick and disruptive innovation.
We feel there is a middle ground between technology and policy, and we hope that the FTC can craft innovative and thoughtful policies – if, any are needed – that protect Americans while encouraging innovation. Applying legacy regulations developed in a different time for different technologies would be akin to attempting to access one’s email with a rotary phone. It just doesn’t work.

In closing, CALinnovates believes the FTC is uniquely situated to attack parochial or hide bound interests. Local commissions may impose peculiar or Byzantine rules in the name of ‘fairness’, or add extra fees and permissions to prevent free and fair competition but the FTC can see the matter from a distance and identify unfair barriers to competition that are limiting competition. CALinnovates appreciates this comment period, and wishes to keep the conversation going. We feel this this workshop was an excellent way to continue discussion between the industry, the Commission and the public. A healthier sharing economy marketplace is a healthier American economy, and we look forward to providing any assistance and feedback on this matter.

CALinnovates’ Statement on DC Court’s Denial of Title II Stay

The following statement can be attributed to CALinnovates’ Executive Director Mike Montgomery:

“This is the first of what will be many court decisions with regard to Title II and Net Neutrality. Unfortunately, these decisions will take several years and leave a great deal of uncertainty in their wake – uncertainty that will hinder innovation, business planning and ultimately the growth of the Internet and the future of the new economy.

“Today’s legal decision changes nothing about the policy imperative, which is why it is essential for Congress to take action in a bipartisan fashion to settle the issue around Net Neutrality once and for all in a way that moves beyond Title II and takes a 21st-century approach to technology policy.”

The 2016 Net Neutrality Time Bomb

(Special to Medium)

No matter who wins the next presidential election, Net Neutrality isn’t secure without legislation.

Elections aren’t always a good thing (I know that sounds un-American but hear me out…)

Elections are the bedrock of our democracy and one of the many things that make this country great. If an elected leader isn’t cutting it, the voters have the opportunity to kick him or her out of office every few years. That’s powerful stuff.

But when it comes to Net Neutrality, the very nature of elections puts the Internet at risk. Thanks to recent action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Net Neutrality is now the province of the FCC.

On January 20, 2016, the nation’s new President will be inaugurated and he (or she) will appoint a new FCC Chairman to replace current Chairman Tom Wheeler. That person will have an outsized influence on the future of Net Neutrality and he (or she) may decide not to enforce the current rules or to change them all together. Everything is riding on the next President’s feeling about Net Neutrality. Although the campaign season is just getting started, we’re already getting a look at who the likely candidates will be and where they stand on Internet freedom.

Read the full article here: https://medium.com/@calinnovates/the-2016-net-neutrality-time-bomb-6bac50e0b7ab

Congress Must Act if DOJ’s Actions Harm Viability of Music Streaming

Special to Roll Call:

By Mike Montgomery

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently held what should be considered an historic hearing to discuss the competitive landscape surrounding music licensing; not just the age old fight about how to divide the royalties, but to examine whether competition in the music space is healthy enough to allow new entrants — such as Pandora and iHeart — to continue to innovate and delight consumers.

In his opening statement, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the committee needs to work toward ensuring fair compensation for artists while also ensuring that new music streaming companies can thrive. And that brought to the fore the 65-year-old antitrust consent decrees that dictate how music license rights are handled in the U.S.

Leahy’s goal isn’t ambitious — it’s logical. But it won’t be met if music labels and the organizations that represent songwriters and publishers get their way, because any modification of the consent decrees would threaten the existence of companies such as Spotify.

Read more: http://blogs.rollcall.com/beltway-insiders/congress-must-act-dojs-actions-harm-viability-music-streaming-commentary/?dcz=

Sen. Mike McGuire’s bill would require reporting by vacation rental companies

Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

A North Coast senator is taking aim at online vacation rental businesses such as Airbnb through proposed legislation that could reap millions for cities and counties in uncollected bed taxes, but critics slam as government over-reach and a threat to the so-called sharing economy.

But critics said the bill would be bad for business and for innovation.

“While consumer protections are generally a great thing, consumers shouldn’t be fooled by this barely-veiled, anti-competitive threat to innovative marketplaces,” Mike Montgomery, executive director of CALinnovates, said in a statement.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/home/3681120-181/sen-mike-mcguires-bill-would

 

NERA: Effect of Title II on Investment Incentives “Worse Than We Thought”

When the FCC released it’s Net Neutrality Order last week, it cited a White Paper commissioned by CALinnovates and drafted by NERA.  The authors of NERA’s White Paper issued a response.  What follows is the conclusion, with a link to the full response, below:

We stand behind the basic results of NERA’s White Paper and find that, if anything, the Order has actually made us more worried about the state of competition and innovation than we were before seeing it, assuming it manages to pass its initial, and inevitable, court challenges. Although the Order is quite long, the actual new rules are very short, reflecting the difficulties that nomenclature and case-by-case analysis will bring. Further, the Order tries to describe the new rules as “light-handed,” ignoring the incentives of aggrieved parties to achieve through FCC litigation what they could not achieve in open competition. As a result, innovation is shackled with new costs that could kill, or at least severely hamper, further development of the Internet ecosystem.

Click here to read NERA’s full response

Business Insider: Uber and Lyft fail to convince judges their employees are ‘independent contractors’

Here are the two most pertinent quotes from the story, both coming from California District Judge Vince Chhabria:

“The jury in this case will be handed a square peg and asked to choose between two round holes.”

“California’s outmoded test for classifying workers will apply in cases like this. And because the test provides nothing remotely close to a clear answer, it will often be for juries to decide.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/uber-and-lyft-fail-to-convince-judges-their-employees-are-independent-contractors-2015-3#ixzz3UIFTYbVy

CALinnovates Statement Regarding FCC Release Of Open Internet Order

The following can be attributed to Executive Director Mike Montgomery

“The inevitable happened today – the FCC’s website broke as it tried to release its 400-page ‘Open Internet’ order, two weeks after the agency voted to approve utility-style regulation of the Internet. Who saw that coming?  Errors aside, today marks the beginning of yet another chapter of the ongoing and seemingly never-ending net neutrality debate. Now that the actual document is finally here, the partisan feud about the agency’s lack of transparency on an issue dealing precisely with openness and transparency might finally be put to pasture.  In the coming days, speed-readers will have their moment in the sun as the nation scrambles to comprehend the 400-page Order and its effect on the Internet ecosystem.

We hope this new stage of transparency and openness will be applied long-term, but the FCC vote will likely prove the wrong vehicle as litigation and future FCCs loom.  Today, CALinnovates calls upon our nation’s federally elected officials to prove the naysayers wrong – bipartisan legislation isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s a necessity.”

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