Net Neutrality Forecast: Cloudy


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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It should come as a surprise to no one that the arrival of a new conservative Republican administration means a reordering of telecommunications policy — away from regulation, and towards a freer hand for the semi-monopolists who control our network access. Now that this change is taking concrete form, it’s worth taking a closer look at.

Ajit Pai, who is already a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (and before that was a lawyer for Verizon), will be the new FCC chairman (The Washington Post). Critics say Pai was a staunch opponent of his predecessor Tom Wheeler’s moves to make network neutrality the law, and we should expect the FCC to begin unravelling that initiative — making it easier for Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other network providers to create different tiers of internet access and to bundle content channels that they control with the basic network services they provide (Motherboard). Also in the offing: a loosening of privacy rules and less support for municipal broadband initiatives.

Pai’s defenders, like Larry Downes (Forbes), say he’s being smeared — he supports the basic concept of net neutrality but opposes Obama-era overreach. The industry is welcoming Pai’s ascent and promises a wave of innovation and new products in the short run. In the long run? Your bills could rise, and already-meager service-provider choices could narrow. But the real test of any net-neutrality outcome is how open the internet remains to newcomers, new companies, and new ideas.

Conscience-Check For Uber Employees

Last week, demonstrators barricaded the entrance to the San Francisco headquarters of Uber to protest the company’s high-profile ties to the Trump administration. Most visibly, CEO Travis Kalanick is serving on one of the new president’s business advisory boards. Inside the rapidly expanding ride-hailing firm, meanwhile, a “crisis of conscience” has been developing, reports Biz Carson in Business Insider.

At an all-hands meeting Tuesday, Kalanick defended Uber’s stance, saying, “We’ll partner with anyone in the world as long they’re about making transportation in cities better.” But the Uber leadership may not be a united front on that. Business Insider reports that Uber’s CTO, Thuan Pham, circulated an impassioned email after Trump’s election bemoaning the outcome as “illogical,” “insane,” and “terrifying.”

Many Uber employees worry that their company is going to be viewed as somehow aligned with Trump — which is not only an issue for their personal consciences, but also a potential problem formaintaining loyalty among urban customers. It’s just one more instance of the tough road business leaders face in the age of Trump: maintaining pragmatic non-partisanship is fiendishly hard in a world where customers and employees have all taken sides and expect companies to do so, too.

A Billionaires’ Club Turns Against Trump

Yesterday we told you about the billionaire “preppers” who are trying to buy hedges against any possible doomsday, be it in the form of climate disaster, nuclear catastrophe, or populist uprising. Withdrawal to a bunker is not the only option for a billionaire, however. Consider the story of William Doll, the organizer of Syneidesis, a billionaires-only investment club. Until recently, as Steve LeVine tells the tale in Quartz, Syneidesis focused on dinner parties and exclusive deals. But in the wake of Trump’s victory, Doll, fearing for the fate of “the liberal world order,” set out to “pivot” the organization’s direction. He now refers to it as “The Justice League of the G20.”

Doll and his collaborators say they prefer not to think in terms of left and right, but Trump-style rejection of science and fact alarm them, and they have begun to draw up new standards and metrics for assessing investments on social impact as well as financial potential. That sounds promising — but LeVine cautions that it may not be able to make a difference against a strong enough historical tide toward isolationism, protectionism, and authoritarian rule.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Failure Leaves a Vacuum

There wasn’t much hope for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama’s big bid to tie the U.S. together with Asian trading partners, even before Donald Trump took office. But the trade pact, which was reviled not only by Trump but by Bernie Sanders and many others on the progressive left, is now officially dead.

That may mean less than generally thought for the short-term state of the American economy, writes Adam Davidson in The New Yorker. TPP wasn’t going to change that much with regard to the U.S.’s existing trade partners on the Pacific Rim. But the longer-term goal of Obama’s trade plan was to build the largest legally-consistent trading zone in the world with the U.S. at its center. With that prospect now doomed, Trump is basically abandoning the field to the U.S.’s rivals.

Progressives thought TPP’s environmental and labor rules weren’t strict enough. But the organization that will likely take its place, known as the Regional Competitive Economic Partnership, has virtually no rules at all. Instead of the U.S., its ringleader is China — the nation most likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the TPP’s demise.

If you’re as eager to join this conversation as we are to convene it, please join us at the Shift Forum this February 6–8th in San Francisco. We’ve got a very limited number of seats left, and we expect it to sell out shortly. Because the event is held under Chatham House Rule, you’ll have be present to learn from these extraordinary leaders. Non profit and founder discounts are available. We hope to see you there!

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