Aug 3, 2020 - Technology

What a President Biden would mean for tech

Illustration of dialogue windows with Joe Biden.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A Biden presidency would put the tech industry on stabler ground than it's had with President Trump. Although Biden is unlikely to rein in those Democrats who are itching to regulate the big platforms, he'll almost certainly have other, bigger priorities.

The big picture: Liberal Silicon Valley remains one of Democrats' most reliable sources for big-money donations. But a Biden win offers no guarantee that tech will be able to renew the cozy relationship it had with the Obama White House.

Where it stands: Democrats familiar with the Biden campaign's work on tech made these predictions...

1. Any early tech policy initiatives will be wrapped up in crisis response.

  • As part of a newly elected Biden administration's efforts to reverse the coronavirus epidemic's ravages, look for an early push to close the "digital divide" between connected Americans and those who can't afford or otherwise access high-speed internet — a lifeline for the shelter-in-place era.
  • That will likely involve efforts to increase broadband subsidy funding, restore Obama-era net neutrality rules and enable cities and rural co-ops to stand up public broadband networks — all priorities outlined in a "unity" agenda from Biden and primary rival Bernie Sanders last month.

2. Don't expect an aggressive tech policy agenda.

  • Several people who spoke with Axios described a constellation of Obama administration tech policy veterans advising the campaign.
  • But absent from the group are either left-flank bomb throwers eager to crack down on tech or big-name Silicon Valley types eager to do the opposite. And there's little indication the establishment players who are there instead are ready to trot out an expansive tech platform, as Hillary Clinton had done by June 2016.
  • That's also strategic: Tech policy today is fraught with politically charged issues around privacy and bias, misinformation, claims of censorship, antitrust issues and more. Democrats see little reason for Biden to wade into these issues during a campaign built on letting Trump sink himself.

3. Once in office, Biden would take cues from the party, even if it means getting more aggressive on tech.

  • Angered by the proliferation of misinformation on Facebook, Biden already said he wants to end online platforms' immunity from liability over material their users post.
  • Observers are split on how serious he is or whether it's still a priority. While there's bipartisan interest in revisiting the issue, changing the law requires an act of Congress.
  • Still, Biden's call signaled a willingness to go hard on tech, and mainstream Democrats are already there. Just last week, House Democrats excoriated the leaders of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple in an antitrust hearing.

4. One person to watch: Mignon Clyburn.

  • The Obama administration veteran is the only Black woman to ever run the Federal Communications Commission, during a roughly six-month stint as acting chair in 2013.
  • She also has a strong relationship with many in the Biden campaign orbit and is the daughter of South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a close Biden ally widely credited with helping Biden secure the Democratic nomination.
  • Observers say she'd land a choice job in a Biden administration and is favored to be his FCC chair unless she turns it down. (Clyburn declined to comment for this story.)

The bottom line: If Biden wins, the tech industry can probably breathe a sigh of relief in his first 100 days.

  • There won't be late-night tweet storms to contend with.
  • Employees and leaders will be happier on issues like immigration and LGBTQ rights.
  • But the industry will still face an administration shaped by a Democratic establishment that's increasingly hostile to them.
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