The newly inaugurated President Trump is famous for his love of Twitter and has single-handedly created the Twitter bully pulpit. Yet, a recent story describing the President’s work habits highlighted his use of more traditional communications tools, with one staff member saying, “he’s an analog guy.”
So, what can we expect from an analog president in a digital age?
The Obama years marked an active and aggressive Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Commission took bold steps on issues like net neutrality, mergers and broadband expansion. Those days are likely over.
At a high-level, the regulatory approach will be decidedly free market. The result? The Obama Administration’s net neutrality rules are in serious jeopardy. The new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is openly against the rules promulgated under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, and the expectation is that the rule will be vastly changed or scrapped.
This free market approach will herald easier times for telecom M&A activity, too. In the past, Chairman Pai has raised concerns about the stipulations put on mergers by the FCC. It is likely that M&A reviews will face less scrutiny than they did during the Obama Administration. The results could mean more mergers in the months and years ahead. But of course, there is a wildcard: President Trump. If he deems a merger unfair to consumers, he can scuttle or significantly alter the deal with one tweet. It is worth monitoring how he engages on M&A activity and what constitutes a good deal for consumers.
Lastly, a key Obama Administration priority—the expansion of our broadband infrastructure—will be impacted. Companies can expect a shift away from mandates and towards market-based incentives as the Administration seeks to shrink the digital divide.
One of the first major policy actions of the Trump Administration started via an executive order (EO) restricting travel to the United States from seven countries in the Middle East. In large measure, the reaction from technology companies, their employees and customers has been swift and negative.
And it appears the Administration is poised to introduce new EOs on immigration that could have an even greater impact on the technology sector. Early drafts of an EO about work visa programs may significant alter these programs, which many technology companies have come to rely on to recruit technical talent from around the world. Technology companies need to prepare now for how they might respond and engage on this issue, and not just with the Administration but also with their employees.
For the Trump Administration, cybersecurity is a key component of its “law and order” strategy. Security breaches of major institutions will be viewed as failures, so expect the Administration to make securing government assets a major priority.
It is expected that the President will order a thorough review of the country’s cyber capabilities, including the ability to respond to nation-state cyber intrusions. Still, that review by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may be delayed as it deals with a rather large presidential priority—the border wall with Mexico.
Complicating matters is the question of personnel. There are more than 600 Senate-confirmed political jobs still to be appointed, many impacting cybersecurity. This problem is compounded by the federal hiring freeze announced on the first day of the Administration. So, not only does the Administration need to identify the problems, but it needs to staff up quickly to address them. This area will be worth watching in the coming months as the Administration’s cyber staffs takes shape and the policies get formulated.
Privacy and Surveillance
We saw epic battles between law enforcement and technology companies over access to data in 2015 and 2016. Tech giants Apple and Microsoft fought government and law enforcement requests to access customer data, wining accolades from privacy organizations.
As a candidate, Trump made it clear he will support enhanced surveillance and expects technology companies to comply with government requests for data. Companies bucking national security requests for information risk the wrath of the POTUS Twitter handle. Smart companies will create strategies to answer questions and engage directly with the Administration on this sensitive topic.
Overall, the issue that matters the most to President Trump is jobs. This is the first, second and third priority of his Administration. Therefore, technology companies eager to wield influence will need to clearly articulate how they are helping grow jobs in the United States. In fact, not doing so is a missed opportunity, a failure to capitalize on President Trump’s interest in working with industry to grow the economy and create new jobs.
In the end, this period of uncertainty creates clear challenges and opportunities. Companies attuned to the President’s agenda and capable of engaging proactively will be rewarded. Companies not prepared for the possible storms risk paying a price.