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What’s Next for Net Neutrality and Telecom under Trump?

During the long 2016 election season, now-President-elect Donald Trump spent far more time talking about immigration, terrorism and the economy than he did about information technology issues. Over the past several years, though, he has occasionally taken to Twitter to bash net neutrality as a “top-down power grab” or say during a Fox & Friends television interview that Apple should be boycotted for fighting an FBI order to unlock an iPhone seized after a mass shooting.

More insights into how a Trump administration might handle Internet and telecom matters, however, can be gleaned from the views of other people likely to be working on those issues.

For instance, between 2000 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and 2012, when he became governor of Indiana, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s stance on numerous technology issues was aligned with much of the rest of the Republican Party: against net neutrality; against the Federal Communications Commission’s now-defunct Fairness Doctrine mandating balanced coverage of matters of public interest; and for telecom immunity against repercussions for warrantless surveillance.

Mixed Messages on Surveillance

In his campaign’s online policy statements, Trump called for an immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities, and noted that his administration would create a pro-innovation regulatory framework. In multiple instances on the campaign trail, he also said he would “open up our libel laws” to make it easier to sue media outlets and also supported stronger Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fines for media offenses.

During the run-up to the primaries in September of last year, for example, Trump fired a tweet at National Review editor Rich Lowry for his off-color description of Trump’s face-off with rival Republican candidate Carly Fiorina. “Incompetent @RichLowry lost it tonight on @FoxNews. He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him!”

Throughout the campaign, Trump also sent mixed messages on Internet and telecom matters of surveillance and security. While his online policy statement declared his administration would not spy on U.S. citizens, he also famously urged Russia to hack Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to reveal the emails she sent using a private server. “Honestly, I wish I had that power,” he said later. “I’d love to have that power.”

Broadband’s Role in Election

Trump will soon have that power, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation Trevor Timm observed in a commentary in The Guardian yesterday. The federal government surveillance systems built up during the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama will come into the Trump team’s hands starting in January, he noted. “It will go down in history as perhaps President Obama’s most catastrophic mistake,” Timm said.

Meanwhile, organizations in the tech and telecom industries are waiting to see what the new administration might mean for their businesses.

In a statement released yesterday, Walter McCormick, president of USTelecom, said his industry association looked forward to working with Trump to advance his commitment to infrastructure investment, particularly as it relates to investment in advanced telecommunications networks and services.

“This election cycle dramatically illustrated the critical role that broadband plays in our nation, providing millions of Americans an unprecedented ability to stay involved in campaigns for public office at the local, state, and national level — and enabling a new kind of citizen engagement in the democratic process,” McCormick said. “Policies that encourage continuing investment in this sector represent a path to prosperity, job creation, and economic growth.”

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