Clinton tech agenda takes the Silicon Valley line

The Democratic nominee’s tech policy vision is exhaustive and detailed, aimed at spurring innovation

Clinton tech agenda takes the Silicon Valley line
Credit: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton for president this week in Philadelphia, and perhaps nowhere are the differences between her and Republican rival Donald Trump more glaring than on technology issues.

Clinton has cultivated a close relationship with Silicon Valley and has relied heavily on technology advisers when crafting her tech policies. It shows.

Her technology agenda goes on at length and in depth about everything from investing in the digital infrastructure and in STEM education to incentivizing entrepreneurial activity, defending net neutrality at home and an open internet abroad, supporting workers in the expanding gig economy, and reforming the patent system.

By contrast, Trump's shoot-from-the-hip campaign pronouncements and tweets have shown him to be at odds with the tech industry. He shows little inclination to consult advisers, and his positions page fails to even mention technology -- or a myriad of related topics.

While Trump advocates forcing tech companies to transfer assembly-line jobs from China to the United States, Clinton notes that "new technologies are already transforming our economy and have the power to generate trillions in economic output." The Democratic platform aims to harness that power of technology and innovation. It includes proposals for the following.

Invest in computer science and STEM education

Clinton notes that "less than one in five high school students has ever taken a computer science course -- a figure that has fallen by 24 percent over the past two decades. Meanwhile, there were over half a million good-paying tech jobs unfilled last year -- and by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer-science related jobs in America, with only 400,000 computer science graduates to fill them. When our young people aren't learning cutting-edge skills, this not only holds them back, but limits our collective potential as a nation."

She proposes providing every student an opportunity to learn computer science by doubling the investment in the Education Innovation and Research Program and expanding the pool of computer science teachers by 50,000 in the next 10 years, both through recruiting new teachers and helping current ones gain additional training with federal financial aid, assistance to professional development programs, and support for public-private partnerships.

Encourage technology entrepreneurs and small business

Clinton "wants to see innovation clusters and entrepreneurship hubs, like Silicon Valley, emerge and thrive across the country. She is committed to supporting incubators, accelerators, mentoring and training for 50,000 entrepreneurs in underserved areas." Clinton proposes doing this by extending and making permanent the New Markets Tax Credit, doubling Treasury's investment in the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, doubling the SSBCI (State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), and building public-private partnerships to invest in local innovation.

Defer student loan payments to help young entrepreneurs

The reason: because "a smaller proportion of millennials today are starting new ventures as compared to their predecessors. Barriers like student debt and a lack of access to credit are holding young people back." Clinton would allow entrepreneurs and early joiners of startups to defer their federal student loans for up to three years as they work through the startup phase of new enterprises. In addition, "young innovators who launch new businesses in distressed communities or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit would receive debt forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years."

Attract and retain top talent from around the world

Clinton notes that "far too often, we require talented persons from other countries who are trained in U.S. universities to return home, rather than stay here and continue to contribute to our economy." She proposes "stapling" a green card to STEM masters and doctorates, enabling international students in these fields to move to green card status. She would also support "startup visas" that allow top entrepreneurs to come to the United States to build technology-oriented companies and create more jobs and opportunities for American workers.

Invest in science and technology R&D

Government investment in research and development spawned the internet and Human Genome Project, and it helped spark lucrative new industries and high-paying jobs. But today, as Clinton notes, "federal funding for R&D as a share of GDP is lower than before Sputnik." Clinton aims to grow the research budgets of entities like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and DARPA "so that we can tackle big challenges like ensuring America continues to lead the world in High Performance Computing, green energy, and machine learning."

Preserve encryption

Clinton "rejects the false choice between privacy interests and keeping Americans safe," while her rival promoted the idea of boycotting Apple until it agreed to open backdoors into the iPhone.

Combat patent trolls

Clinton notes that "the copyright system has languished for many decades, and is in need of administrative reform to maximize its benefits in the digital age." She would enact reforms to reduce excessive patent litigation, strengthen the PTO's operational capacity, and modernize the copyright system.

Defend net neutrality

In contrast to the GOP platform, Clinton pledges staunch support for net neutrality. "The open internet is not only essential for consumer choice and civic empowerment -- it is a cornerstone of startup innovation and creative disruption in technology markets." Clinton also noted her opposition to policies like SOPA that restrict the free flow of data online.

Close the digital divide

"High-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity for 21st century economic success, social mobility, education, health care, and public safety," says Clinton. She calls for expanding access to high-speed broadband, particularly in rural areas, so that 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband by the end of her first term. She would establish new competitive grant programs through a $25 billion Infrastructure Bank to encourage cities, regions, and states to undertake actions that foster greater access to high-speed internet at affordable prices -- whether through fiber, wireless, satellite, or other technologies -- and explore new models of public-private partnerships, such as that undertaken in Huntsville, Alabama.

Protect workers in the growing gig economy

"As our economy changes and more Americans take advantage of new work opportunities, the government must do all that it can to ensure that benefits are flexible, portable, and comprehensive," Clinton says.

Anyone but Trump

More than 140 tech investors and leaders this month publicly denounced Trump's candidacy in an open letter. As the Washington Post put it, "The next generation of industrial titans do not appear to have much confidence that Republicans are the political party that's good for business.... Even one of the big conservative tech investors, Marc Andreessen, pledged "#ImWithHer" (Hillary Clinton) on Twitter the night Trump become the presumptive Republican nominee."

Other prominent GOP supporters, such as HPE CEO Meg Whitman, Cisco's John Chambers, and Oracle's Larry Ellison, did not back Trump in the Republican primary and haven't said who they will support in the general election. Whitman has criticized Trump's plan to impose a tariff on imported goods, saying it "would sink this company into a recession. It would penalize global companies that are trying to be competitive globally."

Whitman also told CNBC in March: "I won't be voting for Donald Trump. Look at the comments he's made about women, about Muslims, about reporters -- it's just repugnant.... My belief is if the American people could really understand his record, understand who he is, understand his business track record -- which is not strong -- we would not nominate Donald Trump."

The American people did nominate Trump. Come November we'll see if they're prepared to elect him.

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