We know well that the initial focus of the new presidency under Biden would be economic recovery from the pandemic. All things healthcare — immunizations, drug pricing, coverage reform, health equity, sustainability and industry behavior is a priority. However, the new government would also focus on infrastructure such highways, bridges, roads and public transit and housing, public schools and broadband internet access and 5G.
At SIMCAC’s 2021 kick-off session in the new year, we focused on what business leaders can expect from the new Biden administration in 2021 and understanding its impact on the IT and communications industry. We took a deep dive into what's going to be likely happening under the Biden administration.
Since it has only been a week of President Biden’s inauguration, we touched upon what has already been announced and what is up and coming in terms of universal broadband, economic relief, technology and cyber-security plans, regulation of Big Tech and climate action in terms of green technologies.
Our first speaker was Jim Baller, one of the foremost telecommunications attorneys in the country and a true expert on regulatory matters in assisting local governments and corporations. Jim’s offered key insights into the focus of the FCC under the new administration and what it means to get advanced communications capabilities to everyone as fast as possible. COVID-19 has expedited the realization across communities in the US that like electricity, advanced communications capabilities are platforms, drivers and enablers of simultaneous progress in everything that matters.
Jim presented the case of how COVID-19 emphasized the need for access to broadband technology, for work, education, tele health or social interactions. Communities across the country have been trying to work with willing incumbents, form public-private partnerships, provide their own networks where necessary or come up with other creative ways of getting that access to broadband technology. That sped up the public's understanding of how important ubiquitous broadband is. It also highlighted the digital divide between urban and rural. This would mean funding to address this communications issue.
Jim also spoke about the democratic control of the White House and the President’s appointment of the FCC Chairman, who would drive new rules regarding Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is about the ability of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to control access to the internet. And the rules that have been the focus of attention have been - no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, and detailed transparency, but that's not really what's at the heart of it. At the heart of it is the regulation of massive ISPs, and whether that kind of regulation is possible. With the previous Republican administration, the emphasis was on transparency and not much regulation. Now, with a new FCC coming back, they'll reverse the tide again. Ultimately, the only proper way to stop this is for Congress to act. Congress is probably too tightly wrapped at this point to change a concept that runs so deep and is so important.
Jim’s last topic was federal funding programs in the wake of the COVID pandemic and economic impacts with the CARES act (the COVID-19 Relief Act). One question he highlighted was how could we validate the effectiveness of these funds. Fortunately, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration have been assigned the responsibility to take a hard look at how the money is being spent under the various programs and report out and how it can be improved. This will help in establishing a more rational set of programs that can cause accelerated deployment, adoption, and use of high-capacity broadband.
Our second presenter, Swathi Young brings decades of technology experience, including Artificial Intelligence, and she is a contributor to the Forbes Technology Council. She presented on a few important areas that the new administration has either promised or planned in the upcoming months.
Swathi presented COVID-19 as Priority1 for the new Biden administration and the emphasis on data driven strategy, evidence and fact based dashboards, and metrics driven plan. This data driven strategy directly impacts IT as it increases the need for data driven systems, skill sets and personnel to support it, and infrastructure, in terms of cloud capabilities, big data, and AI enabling data analytics. There is a technology modernization fund for IT and cyber was also proposed to the extent of 9 billion,
The second is the $1.9 trillion relief package comprises stimulus checks, small business grants, investments and low-interest loans. And also there is an extended break on repaying student loans up to nine months, starting in from January 20. In addition, there is a proposed 100 billion in modernizing schools and the 20 billion to expand rural broadband
The third point she spoke about was regulation of Big Tech, which was a huge election topic. The biggest questions for regulation is the question of emerging technologies. How can autonomous vehicles be regulated? FDA will introduce regulation around IoT products, especially in heart health care. Do drones have the same legislation and regulation as lightweight aircraft? How can crypto currencies be regulated as they are entering mainstream trading? AI and decision-making systems causing inequalities will be top of mind, especially with the ban of facial recognition systems in cities like San Francisco and Boston.
Next, Swathi highlighted the question of social media content moderation, privacy and regulation. This topic has been debated since AWS banned the app Parler from its services and Twitter banning people who produce objectionable content. It comes down to Section 230 reform. Section 230 currently states that the makers of the platform are not responsible for the content that is on the platform, except if it actually is affecting children, or it is involving human trafficking. How can Section 230 be changed to include other use cases?
Another topic she presented was workforce development and job creation. This includes the executive order to buy American-made goods and immigration. Turning off the spousal H1B Visa clause can induce more skilled IT people into the market. The $50 billion investment in workforce training can help employees who are looking to upskill or reskill. Add to it a two year tuition-free community college education for high school graduates and adults who want to transition into a different industry. That is important to the future of jobs with the increased adoption of AI.
On cybersecurity, Swathi added that there is an immediate release of $690 million to address the current data breaches and to support the chief information security officer.
Swathi concluded her talk with Climate action. Biden’s announcement of immediately advancing into the Paris Climate Agreement emphasizes the policymaking at environmental protective agency, and investments in green energy. This will have a tremendous impact for those of us in technology, since technology drives clean energy like smart devices, smart sensors, smart buildings, smart power grids, and electric vehicles.
The event concluded with a round questions from the audience and a general discussion around cybersecurity, education, and the impact of the new administration on tech.