Trump might hate Silicon Valley but that doesn’t mean he loves telcos
By Grahame Lynch
The surprise win of Donald Trump in the race for the US presidency is a setback for the Silicon Valley-based new world tech order such as Amazon and Apple. But his highly populist views do not always align him with telcos either, as evidenced by his opposition to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger.
Telcos who Trump believes have engaged in questionable corporate behavior overseas may also be targeted under his administration. Trump focused very little on tech issues in his campaign, tending to provide only reactions to news of the day, and does not have a formal communications sector policy. His source of advice on telecom issues appears to be Washington DC lobbyist and economist Jeff Eisenach who has deep connections with the American Enterprise Institute and is the editor of a website called Techpolicydaily.com, which features a roster of commentators that tend to be skeptical of liberal positions on telecom policy regarding such matters as broadband subsidies and net neutrality.
In turn, that appears to be Trump’s most strongly held view on tech issues: he opposes net neutrality which he has compared to the “fairness doctrine” which mandates balance in broadcast TV news programs in the US, something which many American conservatives believe favours liberal points of view. Trump was also highly critical of Apple when it resisted FBI moves to access its encryption keys in order to advance an investigation into a December 2015 terrorist incident in San Bernadino, California. Trump said at a rally on February 19 “What I think you oughta do is boycott Apple until such time as they give up that security number. Boycott Apple.” In the end, the FBI figured out how to access a password-enabled iPhone—a key item of evidence—without the assistance of Apple.
He has also criticised Amazon for not paying enough tax in America and threatened to breakup the newly merged ComcastNBC. In turn, 140 US tech leaders and executives put their names to a letter criticising what they saw as Trump’s hostility to freedom of speech, open borders, labour mobility and expressed desire to close down parts of the Internet if needed for national security. Among the signatories were executives from Ebay, Facebook, Qualcomm and Sun Microsystems. Telecom vendors perceived to threaten America’s national security interests may also be in the Trump administration’s sights. For example, he was critical of Ericsson for paying a large premium to the Clinton Foundation for a speech by Bill Clinton. “In 2009, Ericsson telecommunications came under US pressure for selling telecom equipment to several oppressive governments – including Sudan, Syria and Iran. Some of these regimes used those technologies to monitor and control their own people,” he said.
“In June 2011, Hillary Clinton’s State Department began adding goods and services to a list that might be covered under expanded sanctions on Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. During that time, Ericsson sponsored a speech by Bill Clinton, paying him $750,000 – his highest paying speech.” “In April 2012, the Obama Administration issued an executive order imposing sanctions on telecom sales to Iran and Syria – but those sanctions did not cover Ericsson’s work in Iran,” he said and then declared that ”a Trump Administration will end the corruption.”
Ericsson denies the charge.
Trump has also criticised the recent transfer of Internet governance from the US Department of Commerce to ICANN, a non-profit entity now overseen by various government and civil society stakeholders. Picking up on a position largely advanced by rival Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, Trump adviser Stephen Miller said in September, “Congress needs to act, or internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost.” It is unclear how much influence Eisenach has over Trump at this stage. Eisenach has tended to oppose government intervention in the market, for example, spectrum policy which guarantees spectrum to new entrants but it also strong on anti-trust, supporting proposals to break up Microsoft.
Trump’s advisers have also directly asked various tech industry players for their own suggestions as to who he should appoint to various federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission. But at the end of the day, Trump is a populist who takes a range of different ideological positions that range from promotion of corporate freedom to populism on trade and M&A. AT&T, a company that has traditionally been seen as a beneficiary of Republican administrations, will not to be pleased for example that Trump opposes its Time Warner buy, tying it into what he perceives as a media industry that is too powerful and elitist. “As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
Investors don’t seen too concerned though. In the overall environment of tumbling stock prices overnight, AT&T was up half a percent in after-hours trading whereas Verizon had eased very slightly by 0.04%.
FOOTNOTE: One casualty of the campaign is the whole concept of big data. Barack Obama famously used it to hone his election campaign as did Hilary Clinton. But Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal “I’ve always felt it was overrated. Obama got the votes much more so than his data-processing machine. And I think the same is true with me.” But although he disdained big data, his use of social media is estimated to have gained him $2 billion of advertising value.
(This article first appeared in www.commsday.com)
About the author:
Grahame Lynch was the editorial director of America’s Network magazine from 1999 to 2001. The magazine’s October 2000 issue comparing the tech policies of presidential candidates Al Gore and George W Bush won the 2001 Western Publishing Association’s Maggie Awards for best news feature in an magazine in the western United States.
(Featured picture was sourced from www.wonkette.com)