In 2017, tech companies will have to adapt to a new reality. President Trump and his cabinet of billionaires will shape government regulation for companies across the tech industry.
And while pre-election, many thought markets would collapse with a Trump win, and post-election, many questioned their navet that business wouldn’t respond well to a Trump presidency, it’s actually a mix of both for the tech world.
“If you’re a company whose product is enmeshed in a core Democratic philosophy like cannabis or ed tech, this could be more challenging for you,” Bradley Tusk, a consultant who works with Uber and other tech companies on their regulatory strategies, told Mashable. “If you’re a company who just wants to go about your business without being over-regulated, you’re probably going to do pretty well.”
While a Republican administration probably won’t try to increase regulation on most business interests, tech giants like Apple and Amazon might have more to fear from a Trump presidency than your everyday Silicon Valley startup. Trump could, for example, say he wants Apple to produce more iPhones within the United States.
“Big public companies have more risk here,” Tusk said. “Startups see less regulatory obligations.”
Tusk outlined his predictions for the other big fights the tech world should expect in 2017.
1. Contractors vs. employees
The issue that has slowed down Uber, Postmates, Instacart and every buzzy tech startup that depends on a fleet of ad hoc workers will be the top regulatory battle of 2017, Tusk said.
Are drivers and delivery couriers employees of the tech platforms that connect them with customers? Or can companies continue to classify these workers as contractors and avoid providing benefits or employee protections to their ever-growing workforces?
2. The rules surrounding self-driving cars and trucks
Regulators still aren’t really sure how to handle self-driving cars. Uber’s fleet hit the road with the cooperation of Pittsburgh’s officials, then drew the ire of California regulations in San Francisco.
Plus, there’s the question of autonomous trucking, where self-driving vehicles cross state lines and have to deal with trade regulations.
How exactly to regulate cars without drivers is still unclear, and more legislation answering these questions will pop up in cities and states dealing with the autonomous future a little early.
3. Whatever happens to the Affordable Care Act
Healthcare is one of the most uncertain areas of policy heading into 2017. How exactly will Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, will they leave some of it intact, and what might replace it? For the growing field of health tech, that leaves a lot of questions. But the lack of regulation that might eventually replace the ACA provides some opportunities for health tech companies in particular, telemedicine and insurance startups.
“People in the tech sector feel that federal or local rules that restrain them could be overturned this creates the opportunity to do that,” Tusk said.
4. Food tech and GOP agri-business
Companies working in food tech face a few challenges. With the GOP in power, traditional agriculture will have significant influence on lawmakers. At the same time, enforcement by the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture could decline.
“If you’re a food tech company competing with Big Meat, Dairy, Milk or Eggs, you may find yourself with more scrutiny than you might have from the USDA under Obama,” Tusk said. “This is one area where startups could face more scrutiny, not less, because of the relationships between the industry and Republican members of Congress.”
5. Marijuana legalization
For the startups trying to map the future of legal marijuana, November’s election results threw a wrench in their plans. The state-level fight for legalization will continue, but with any federal progress likely on hold, investments and other state campaigns could wane.
6. Getting government support for renewable energy
“If you don’t believe in climate change, you might not see a reason to give tax incentives,” Tusk said of GOP lawmakers’ approach to renewable energy startups. “Companies depend on those tax credits.”
Without a hospitable federal government, companies linked to fighting climate change will instead have to turn to state and local funding. That will change the approach of energy startups.
7. The future of ed tech
With an education secretary who is in favor of privatizing public education, there are more pressing questions for education advocates than ed tech.
With attention elsewhere and without the influence of teachers’ unions on Democrats ed tech startups have an opportunity.
“The focus in education will shift to a debate over charters, vouchers and the end of common core. This will make it even harder to push an efficiency argument for ed tech,” Tusk said. “Ed tech companies need to expand their markets beyond traditional k-12 public schools.”
8. The Airbnb debate
Airbnb faces some of the most antagonistic regulators of any company. As cities around the globe watch each other and come up with strategies to fight the home-rental giant, Airbnb will still be playing defense in 2017.
9. H1B visa reform
With comprehensive immigration reform pretty much dead, reform of H1B visas for skilled workers will actually start to move forward.
“Democrats for the last eight years said, ‘no, you can’t give them a win or they have no reason to support broader comprehensive reform.’ Now Republicans could pass H1B reform without having comprehensive reform,” Tusk said. “Regardless of your overall views on immigration, the tech sector wants to see H1B reform. That’s what the tech sector cares about.”