Posts from Politics

Why be civically engaged if you’re in tech?

Tomorrow, Ron Conway and I are going to kick off Disrupt NY 2015, with a fireside chat with Kim-Mai Cutler. We plan to discuss philanthropy and civic involvement. I’m looking forward to this talk. I think folks in the tech sector need to embrace philanthropy and civic involvement and I look forward to making the case for that.

I’ve been working in the VC business since the mid 80s. And for most of that time, I’ve felt that the tech sector was surprisingly uninterested and uninvolved in things outside of the tech sector. That’s a great strength of the tech sector, it’s is focused on innovation, making things, and building companies. And it does not get distracted by things outside of that realm.

But we know that the things we make and the companies we build have great impact on those outside of the tech sector. It can be for the good, like building cars that don’t use carbon fuels and showing the auto industry that it can be a good business to do that. It can be for the bad, like automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle.

It feels to me that our economy and our society is now deeply entwined with technology and being significantly impacted by it. If that is true, I believe it is shortsighted to avoid getting engaged in the discussions and debates about what kind of world we need to work toward. I think one way or another the tech sector is going to get pulled into these debates. It will be one thing if that happens thoughtfully and positively and another if the tech sector is pulled into them kicking and screaming.

Regular readers of this blog know that my partners and I have been involved in these discussions since we started USV over a decade ago. We spend our time, energy, and capital in areas like policy debates, philanthropy, and civic engagement. There are others in the tech sector who do the same. Ron Conway comes to mind as someone who has spent a similar amount of time, energy, and capital on this stuff. And I am thrilled to share the stage with him tomorrow as we discuss these issues.

We go on stage at 9:05am eastern tomorrow. I’m hoping the talk will be livestreamed and you can watch it live. If it is, it will be somewhere like here.

The Anti-Science and The Anti-Economics Parties

Marc Andreessen delivered a lot of good one liners in this interview with Dan Primack, but my favorite was about the upcoming Presidential election cycle:

I’m really struggling between between the anti-science party and the anti-economics party. I’m highly tempted to sit this one out. I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Last week I was at a meeting of some NYC tech entrepreneurs and investors with a Republican Senator. After I made a few comments, the Senator turned to me and said “you sound like a Republican” to which I replied “I could never be that.” The Senator continued to press me and said “but you are a business person” and I replied “but I am also a human being.”

Now I don’t mean to say that Republicans aren’t human beings. I was just saying that I can’t and won’t put my business interests before other factors that enter my mind when I think about the orthodoxies of our two parties.

Marc’s construct of anti-economics vs anti-science is his way of describing the conundrum. It is a good one.

As we enter the 2016 Presidential cycle, I am reminded that there isn’t a candidate out there who sees the world (or at least admits seeing the world) the way I do. It’s a struggle for me and, it seems, many others as well.

Discrimination

I am very proud to see tech leaders like Mark Benioff and Tim Cook speak out on the rising tide of discriminatory legislation being proposed around the country.

I believe we must continue to work as hard as we can to make America a place where people are free to do as they wish. This was the goal of the founders of our country and we must continue to uphold it. If people want to believe certain things, we must allow them to do that. But we cannot allow people to use religious freedom as a license to withhold liberty and freedom from others.

There is a direct and discernible relation between tolerance and economic health. William Penn brought religious tolerance to Philadelphia which in turn led to an economic boon which was the envy of the other colonies. That led the other colonies to embrace religious tolerance to compete with Philadelphia. Paul Romer, an economist at NYU, explains this in his “charter cities” work.

America is the best example of the relationship between tolerance and growth in the world. It has been a place that welcomes others and allows them to live freely and pursue their dreams. There are many people in our country who would prefer we move away from that model. They want to lock down our borders and discriminate against others on the basis of religious beliefs.

We must oppose these desires with urgency and strength. They go against our founding beliefs and they are hurtful to our economic growth and progress. The tech industry has been a strident supporter of immigration reform and is now also standing up against discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs. I am proud to work in the tech industry and I stand with the leaders on both of these important issues.

The Clinton Email Affair

The fascinating thing about the Clinton Email Affair is that it illustrates a central truth of our time; someone is storing and reading your emails. That someone could be your employer, your government, your email provider, or all of the above. A very small percentage of email users choose to run their own email servers and avoid this fate. It turns out that the woman who wants to be our next President is one of those very few.

What does this choice say about her and how she would approach digital privacy? If Edward Snowden is the person who told us what we always suspected but were in denial about, then Hillary Clinton is the person who opted out of the system and lived to tell us how she did it.

The media wants her to tell us why she did it. As if there is any question about that. She did not want the witch hunters in Washington to have access to her emails. That’s it. She has been there and has the scars to show for it and did what any intelligent person with balls would do. She opted out. And she got away with it for four years.

Of course, this affair could get in the way of her desire to get back to the White House. We will see about that. In which case she will have not gotten away with it.

But even so, I would hope that this affair, along with the Snowden revelations, clarifies things for people. Your emails are not private messages. They aren’t much different than posting on Twitter and Facebook. If you do anything that a lot of people care about, your emails will be read and shared. Unless you run your own email server and encrypt your messages.

Sadly this email affair is playing out like all other Washington scandals when it could be anchoring a much larger national discussion about the privacy of personal communications and what are our rights are in that regard. Maybe if this email affair blows over and Hillary ends up in the White House, she can lead that discussion. She will be well suited to do so.

Video Of The Week: Kara Swisher Interviews Hillary Clinton

I posted an interview that Kara Swisher did with President Obama a few weeks ago. Shortly after that interview, Kara interviewed Hillary Clinton. Kara is on a roll. I hope she interviews Jeb Bush next.

In any case, it is great to see a tech journalist interviewing the major national political figures. There are a host of important national tech issues and it is great to be able to hear these politicians address them.

Sadly the email scandal broke about a week after this interview so Kara was not able to ask about that. But otherwise, this is a great discussion and, as I said, I hope she does more of this.

Open Internet Rules

The FCC is expected to approve its Open Internet Rules today. This is a big deal and something we have been fighting for since former FCC Chair Michael Powell unfortunately and incorrectly ruled that Internet Access was an “information service.” We believe that last mile Internet Access is a natural monopoly/duopoly in most geographies and needs to be regulated as such.

My colleague Nick Grossman has a good quick read on usv.com about these rules, why we are strongly in support of them, and what this means.

As Nick says in his post,

We believe in markets. We believe that by recognizing that access to the Internet is an essential service, the FCC has moved to protect the free and open markets that depend on that access. Contrary to much FUD, this is NOT regulating the internet, it’s ensuring open access TO the Internet.

Utility vs Information Service

I saw this headline on the New York Times today:

F.C.C. Is Expected to Propose Regulating Internet Service as a Utility

Now you can argue whether regulating the last mile Internet is a good idea and we have done that ad naseum here at AVC over the years.

But if you accept that some regulations are necessary, you are then faced with the question of whether you should classify last mile Internet as a “utility” or an “information service” as is currently the case.

The decision by then FCC Commissioner Michael Powell to classify internet access (the last mile) as an information service a decade ago is really what’s at stake in this net neutrality debate.

An “information service” is something like AOL or maybe even Wikipedia. It is a service that provides information to a user. The wire (or fiber) that Comcast, Verizon, or some other telco runs from their network to your home or office is most definitely not an information service and should not be regulated as such.

To me it looks like a utility. Just like my electricity service, my water service, and my gas service. The honest to god truth of this matter is that last mile internet service is a utility and has been since broadband arrived a decade or more ago.

Again, we can argue about whether it should be regulated (as electricity, water, and gas are), but we really cannot argue with a straight face that broadband internet access is an information service. It never was and it never will be.

With All Due Respect

We spent the Christmas week on the beach with family and friends. Our friends John and Diana were with us and we talked about a lot of the things that are in the news at the intersection of tech and society. John asked me to take that conversation onto his TV show, With All Due Respect, and I did that yesterday. Here is the segment.

Immigration

Damn. The President has done it twice in the past few weeks. He’s showing a new side of him and I like it very much.

Last night he announced a series of executive actions that “will shield up to five million people from deportation and allow many to work legally, although it offers no path to citizenship”, to quote from the New York Times.

It bothers me very much that the US, a nation of immigrants, a place where many (most?) new businesses are started by immigrants or the children of immigrants, a country that has historically welcomed others with open arms, has become closed minded when it comes to the issue of immigration. We have given a lot of time and money, and airtime here at AVC, in support of immigration reform and I have come to understand that the issue is hostage to the politics of our two main parties.

The Democrats want to remain the party of the immigrant and have been pushing for “comprehensive immigration reform” in search of a big win for its constituents. The Republicans don’t want to let tens of millions of likely Democratic voters into the voting booths in the coming years and have been against any path to citizenship and the voting booth. Both positions are understandable and rational in the context of politics. But caught in the middle are tens of millions of people who are in our country, have been in our country for a long time, and who provide much of the foundation of the hard work that gets done every day. This is not right. We must change it.

And so the President has thrown down the gauntlet and said “I’m going to do what must be done, regardless of whether you like it or not, and I have the legal right to do it.” Is this politically motivated. Hell yes. Is it the right thing to do. Hell yes. Now it is time for the Republicans to do the right thing to. Because they really have no choice.

Every once in a while good politics results in good policy. This is one of those times. Thanks Mr President.