Tech Policy Update, April 2020
IF YOU LIKED IT, SHOULD’VE PUT A MASK ON IT — In a widely cited Politico op-ed and accompanying paper for the Mercatus Center, Caleb Watney and the Progressive Policy Institute’s Alec Stapp offer a novel solution to America’s shortage of critical medical supplies: The federal government should use Title III of the Defense Production Act to purchase large quantities of face masks and other protective equipment. Rather than nationalizing the supply chain, they explain, purchase guarantees would incentivize rapidly increased production of things like ventilators and masks.
Building on this, Caleb writes for National Review on how we can expand public use of medical masks, making the “strong economic case for the government to spend lots of money to ensure a robust mask market and then provide them for free to everyone.”
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, THE REGS ARE GONE — In an effort to expand healthcare options in the midst of the pandemic, many states have wisely loosened their regulations restricting the use of telehealth. Unfortunately, as Courtney Joslin explains in an R Street Blog post, the ocular health industry remains mired in protectionist rules in many U.S. states. “These barriers are burdensome enough in normal times,” Courtney explains, “but during a pandemic, they are indefensible.”
HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ZOOM CHAT — In a piece for Morning Consult, Tom Struble looks at how to ensure all Americans are able to stay connected throughout the COVID-19 crisis. While we’re fortunate that our internet hasn’t yet broken under the pandemic stress, and the FCC has taken important steps to maintain connectivity, Tom identifies additional steps that Congress, state and local governments, President Trump and the broadband industry itself should all take to boost connectivity and promote wide-scale broadband deployment.
BAD MEDICINE FOR INNOVATION POLICY — In STAT News with NYU Law School’s Christopher Morten, Charles Duan explains how strong patent protections can threaten public health in times of crisis. The authors show why “lawmakers must be wary of patents and be flexible and proactive in using the many legal tools available to check their harmful use,” and identify four specific strategies that can help protect against “profit-motivated patent assertion that could harm public health.”
One op-ed is the loneliest number, so Charles also writes for The Hill on a new bill by Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), that marks a first step toward relieving patents for speedy innovation in a time of crisis, and explains in the Washington Examiner how we should rethink America’s innovation policy in light of the global pandemic, particularly looking to incentives other than patents.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER INTERNET — For Insider Advantage, Marc Hyden and Charles Duan look at how Internet and technology companies have provided crucial services and innovation during the COVID-19 quarantine—everything from connecting socially distanced families to providing computing power for epidemiology research. That’s an important message for federal and state lawmakers, who have been targeting technology companies and seeking to break them up: If they had gotten their way, we may all have been worse off without a robust Internet economy.
UNBREAK MY INTERNET — In a Medium post, Daisy Soderberg-Rivkin discusses lessons learned about the FOSTA–SESTA law on Internet platform liability from her experience as a content moderator. Looking back over the two years since the law went into effect, she finds validation for many of the early concerns that the law would put sex workers in danger, because it resulted in more sex workers taking their services to the streets rather than using online platforms to render safe and legal services that might protect them from dangerous clients.
HERE’S MY PLATFORM, SO SUE ME MAYBE — Writing for Techdirt, Jeffrey Westling considers the significant problems that would result if the EARN IT Act were to become law. Jeff agrees that the law could be used effectively to ban end-to-end encryption and reduce free speech online. He goes on to explain that the EARN IT Act would worsen the “traditional moderator’s dilemma,” reducing two bad choices—moderate nothing, or too much—to two worse ones: “comply with the recommended best practices, or open the legal floodgates.”
SENDING OUT AN SOS FOR DELIVERY — Jarrett Dieterle and Steven Greenhut published an “R Sheet” one-pager on how California’s Assembly Bill 5 impedes innovation and where the debate stands in the midst of a pandemic. Many in California have called for a temporary suspension of AB 5 during the coronavirus crisis, since it makes it more difficult for delivery drivers to get goods and services to peoples’ homes. Greenhut and Dieterle argue that “AB 5 should be suspended in this time of crisis, but it also needs to be revisited once things calm down.”
INTEROPERABLE PLANETARY, PLANETARY INTEROPERABLE — In the Washington Times, R Street President Eli Lehrer writes with Deen Freelon of the University of North Carolina on the need for voluntary, interoperable standards to improve access to high-quality social media data. Given how social media and Internet activities can shed light on our habits during the pandemic and may also provide clues for combatting future pandemics, they call for “an initiative to standardize data formats and make them more accessible to more researchers.”
CAN’T YOU SEE, YOU BELONG WITH FCC — Tom Struble and Jeff Westling filed comments with the FCC on the 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The comments praise the FCC’s recent work, and call on the agency to “continue the great progress that has been made under the light-touch approach to broadband regulation” by clarifying matters on public safety, pole attachments and the Lifeline program.
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