Biden's openings for tech progress
Item No. 1 on President-elect Joe Biden's day-one tech agenda, controlling the flood of misinformation online, offers no fast fixes — but other tech issues facing the new administration hold out opportunities for quick action and concrete progress.
What to watch: Closing the digital divide will be a high priority, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely.
- Much of the responsibility for addressing that gap will fall to the Federal Communications Commission, which is certain to make the effort its first priority.
- The FCC's gears don't move fast enough to flood the country with dollars for broadband on Biden's day one. But the FCC could, for instance, move quickly to expand broadband subsidies for schools and libraries to cover in-home internet, as agency veteran Amina Fazlullah notes in a paper for the Day One Project, a bipartisan group.
- Yes, but: That depends on having a functioning agency. Some conservatives are pushing for Senate Republicans to embark on a lame-duck sprint to confirm a Trump nominee to the FCC, which would leave the agency in a partisan deadlock.
Antitrust action against Big Tech is the rare policy area where the Trump administration has set up its successor to take the baton and run with it.
- Trump's Justice Department will hand off to Biden's an antitrust lawsuit against Google that argues the company has built a self-reinforcing machine that unfairly smothers competition in online search.
- The view that Google and other tech giants are harmful monopolies is now mainstream among Democrats. Biden's DOJ is unlikely to balk at the case and, if anything, may be more apt to expand it. That could come in concert with Democratic state attorneys general who have been probing Google for other competitive abuses since 2019.
- The same goes for a potential antitrust suit against Facebook, considered likely to emerge soon from the Federal Trade Commission.
Other Trump-era tech imbroglios will likely peter out.
- Few expect the Biden administration will have much stomach to pursue Trump's attempts to ban Chinese-owned apps WeChat and TikTok, both of which are largely on ice after courts halted key orders. (The would-be TikTok ban may also be fully called off by Friday.)
- A long-brewing Trump White House effort to back a national 5G network is also widely viewed as a nonstarter under Biden, although it could reemerge in different form.
Between the lines: Biden also has a major opportunity to re-establish stability on matters of tech.
- Trump's habit of targeting individual companies by name in tweets and feuding with specific companies like Amazon dismayed the industry and discredited normal policymaking.
- Once the president picked a fight with a company, every policy move or deal involving that firm proceeded under a cloud of assumed bias.
"Gov tech" is another realm where Biden may be able to pick up where President Obama left off.
- The Trump administration has carried on the work of the U.S. Digital Service and 18F, two agencies founded to improve government systems following the botched launch of Healthcare.gov.
- But 18F has shrunk substantially, while USDS has faced constraints on its ability to, for instance, work directly with states on issues like coronavirus response and updating unemployment systems.
- More enthusiastic backing for this work from Biden would make sense.