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Here’s What the Tech Industry Faces Under President Trump

Silicon Valley enters a tumultuous future as policies intimately tied to the tech industry face a likely shakeup.

Posted on November 9, 2016, at 1:44 p.m. ET

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The same tech titans who took issue with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, clashing with his candidacy on substance and temperament, today must confront a looming Trump presidency that could dramatically reshape they way they do business and the policies that govern their operations.

As campaign posturing becomes agenda setting in Washington and election pledges evolve into new regulations and presidential appointments, Trump’s positions on issues like immigration, free trade, encryption, and network neutrality will soon collide with widely held views in Silicon Valley. Trump may also seize the chance to follow through on threats aimed at some of the industry’s biggest players. Here’s what the tech world faces under President Trump.

Attacks on Apple’s Overseas Manufacturing

"We’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country."

“[W]e’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries,” Trump said in January. While it’s unclear how Trump would force CEO Tim Cook to reshape his international supply chains or alter the makeup of his workforce, the pledge to bring manufacturing jobs back to the Unites States has been at the heart of the Trump campaign. In a speech this week in which he railed against IBM, Trump signaled how he might curb the outsourcing of jobs overseas. If elected, Trump said he would impose a 35% tax on American companies that move jobs abroad. “A Trump administration will stop the jobs from leaving America,” he said, adding, “we will make them pay a 35% tax.”

Apple declined a request for comment.

A Prolonged Feud with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

"Believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems." 

"Believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They're going to have such problems," Trump said of Amazon earlier this year. Trump has attacked the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, over his purchase of the Washington Post. Trump has claimed that Bezos wields his ownership of the newspaper to garner political influence in order to benefit Amazon. "Amazon is getting away with murder tax-wise," Trump said in May. "He's using the Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don't tax Amazon like they should be taxed."

Trump also said that Bezos has taken issue with him because a Trump administration might use antitrust laws to pursue Amazon. "He thinks I'll go after him for antitrust,” Trump said, referring to Bezos. “Because he's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much, Amazon is controlling so much of what they are doing."

Amazon declined to comment.

A Push for Encryption Backdoors

"Who do they think they are?"

During the intense legal battle pitting Apple and much of the tech community against the FBI and the Justice Department over an encrypted iPhone in San Bernardino, Trump slammed Apple for not complying with a judge’s order to bypass the phone’s security. "But to think that Apple won't allow us to get into her cell phone," Trump said in February. "Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up." Trump’s objection to Apple’s stance led him to call for a boycott of the company’s products.

While the broader debate in Washington over lawful access to encrypted communications remains unresolved, Trump-as-candidate signaled that his administration would force companies to weaken their own security products in order to give law enforcement special access.

Blocking the Transition to International Web Governance

The long-planned transfer of the internet’s technical management from the US government to an international body could face legal hurdles under President Trump. “Donald Trump is committed to preserving internet freedom for the American people and citizens all over the world,” Stephen Miller, the national policy director for the Trump campaign, said in September. Since 1998, an international nonprofit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been responsible for overseeing the web’s global domain naming system — which allows us to connect to unique web addresses from anywhere in the world. But Trump wants the US to retain control.

Oversight of the naming system officially resides with the US Department of Commerce, but in October the US was removed as a middleman and ICANN was given management responsibility. The move was made in part to advance a vision of the internet as a truly global, open network, beyond the control of national governments — even the United States. But Trump may support legal efforts to stymie the transition, despite it being backed by tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

Restricting Immigration and the Flow of Foreign Workers

"I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program."

One of the most enduring issues raised by tech leaders is the need for a more open immigration policy to increase the supply of skilled workers. Championed by execs like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley has pushed Congress and the White House to offer more H-1B visas, which allow companies to hire foreign workers to fill specialty roles. Trump, however, has argued that the visas are used by tech companies to bring in cheap labor from abroad, denying job opportunities to qualified Americans. He’s proposed a plan that would require employers to pay H-1B workers higher wages, compelling firms to seek out American workers rather than more expensive foreign ones. Trump has called out Zuckerberg by name in his criticism of the visas, and said in August that he would “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Dismantling Network Neutrality

“Obama’s attack on the internet is another top-down power grab." 

While a federal appeals court has ruled that regulators have the authority to enforce open internet rules, which ban internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from favoring or blocking content or apps, Congressional Republicans have continued to oppose net neutrality. A legal challenge over the issue may wind up in the Supreme Court. While net neutrality did not rise to the campaign stage, Trump opposed it in the past, describing the open internet rules supported by president Obama, the Federal Communications Commission, and much of the tech industry as a form of censorship, akin to old broadcasting rules.

“Obama’s attack on the internet is another top-down power grab," Trump tweeted in November 2014. "Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media." As president, Trump will appoint a new chair to the FCC, who may gut network neutrality.

Uncertainty on Broadband Access, Cable Box Overhaul, and AT&T Merger

As part of her tech policy plan, Clinton set a goal of providing high speed internet to every American household by 2020, if she were elected president. Since 2009, the FCC has been tasked to fulfill a national broadband plan to help connect the roughly 100 million Americans who don’t have broadband capability at home. That plan included goals to provide universal access to low-income families, review competition rules to ensure a vibrant broadband marketplace, and to support the development of the world’s fastest and best covered wireless network. It’s unclear how a president Trump would approach the national broadband plan.

Another telecommunications issue that awaits Trump’s input is the plan to overhaul the market for set top boxes. Tom Wheeler, the chair of the FCC, has proposed a plan that would require cable and satellite providers to offer their pay-tv feeds through apps, allowing customers to ditch their cable boxes and watch programming through newer devices. The FCC postponed its vote on the proposal in September, which is backed by consumer groups and president Obama, but is vehemently opposed by cable providers like Comcast and AT&T. A new date to vote on the proposal has not been set, but a new FCC commissioner might scrap the plans or institute more favorable rules to the cable industry.

The next FCC commissioner will likely also find the AT&T-Time Warner merger on their desk, as the agency and the Justice Department’s antitrust division evaluate whether the deal hurts competition or serves the public interest. Before AT&T had even announced plans to buy Time Warner for $85 billion, Donald Trump trashed the deal and vowed to block it, describing the merger last month as “an example of the power structure I’m fighting.” While some analysts have downplayed Trump’s criticism of the deal as political posturing, Congressional Democrats have also cast doubt on the merger, seizing on the economic populism that fueled Trump’s campaign. As part of the proposal, AT&T will have to cough up $500 million to Time Warner if regulators under a Trump administration do not approve the marriage.

AT&T referred BuzzFeed News to a statement made by CFO John Stephens at a conference Wednesday morning. “From a company perspective, we really look forward to working with President-elect Trump and his transition team," he said. “His policies and his discussions about infrastructure investment, economic development, and American innovation all fit right in with AT&T's goals.”

Accusations of Google Search Manipulation and “Dishonest Media”

"Twitter, Google and Facebook are burying the FBI criminal investigation of Clinton."

In September, Trump claimed the search giant was suppressing “bad news” about his political opponent, Hillary Clinton. He later roped in Twitter and Facebook as co-conspirators in an effort to conceal news from readers concerning the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Trump tweeted at the end of October: “Wow, Twitter, Google and Facebook are burying the FBI criminal investigation of Clinton. Very dishonest media!”

Google, Twitter, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

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