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Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee to tackle President Donald Trump this fall within the basic election.

Scott Olson/Getty Photographs

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

The Democrats’ nationwide ticket is full. Presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden made history with his pick of Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential operating mate as he seems to be to unseat Donald Trump and take the White Home. And with the beginning of the Democratic Nationwide Conference simply days away, the final election marketing campaign will quickly be in full swing.

Although expertise points, together with net neutrality, rural broadband and on-line privacy, had been sizzling matters within the main season, the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout have dominated the political dialogue over the previous a number of months. In consequence, expertise has taken a again seat. 

However the COVID-19 disaster, which has led to a fast adoption of telemedicine and digital training, has additionally shone a light-weight on the digital divide stopping tens of millions of People from accessing high-speed web. 

Regardless that tech coverage is not more likely to decide the result of the election, whoever occupies the Oval Workplace could have a serious affect on the tech sector, from setting infrastructure coverage on broadband deployment to overseas coverage and nationwide safety points involving China to deciding deal with the expansion and affect of social media giants. Massive tech firms resembling Fb and Twitter are already being scrutinized by Democrats and Republicans, as lawmakers on each side look to rein of their energy. 

Throughout congressional hearings in July, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai were grilled about allegedly monopolistic practices. The Trump administration has additionally used Chinese language-owned tech firms, together with TikTok and Huawei, in its broader method towards coping with China. 

Up to now, Biden has remained comparatively quiet on tech. His operating mate, who hails from California and has shut ties to Silicon Valley, will probably be seen by the trade as extra a good friend than a foe. Nevertheless it’s arduous to think about that below new Democratic management Massive Tech would take pleasure in the identical type of cozy relationship it had throughout Barack Obama’s administration, which Biden served in as vice chairman for eight years. 

This is a have a look at the place Biden stands on the problems.

Web neutrality

In contrast to a few of the different Democratic candidates, Biden hasn’t mentioned a lot about web neutrality. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, against this, expressed early on of their candidacies robust assist for the precept. 

A spokesman for Biden’s marketing campaign mentioned Biden is a supporter of robust web neutrality protections. 

“As Barack Obama’s vice chairman, Joe Biden was proud to push for web neutrality and see the [Federal Communications Commission] take direct motion to maintain the web open and free for all People,” the spokesman mentioned in an announcement. Biden, he mentioned, was outraged at seeing the Open Web Rule reversed below the Trump administration.

However Biden’s observe document tells a special story. When he was a senator, he did not co-sponsor or assist web neutrality laws, together with the 2007 Internet Freedom Preservation Act. Different outstanding Democrats, together with then-Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton, had been co-sponsors of that laws, as was Sanders.

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Biden also has a close relationship with Comcast executives, who’ve lobbied against strict net neutrality regulations. Comcast Senior Vice President David Cohen hosted Biden’s first fundraiser after he announced his bid for president.

“Biden’s record on net neutrality is concerning, to say the least,” said Evan Greer, deputy director for the grassroots organization Fight for the Future. “Companies like Comcast and Verizon have contributed enormous amounts of money to both Democrats and Republicans over the years.”

But those ties aren’t concrete evidence of Biden’s stance. It’s worth noting that Obama also held fundraisers with Comcast before eventually calling, in a YouTube video, for stricter regulation of broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. These stricter regulations treated broadband like a public utility, such as the old-style telephone network. As president, Obama also went golfing with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts in 2013.  

“Roberts and David Cohen are big donors to Democrats, and Biden has been around a long time,” said Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official under Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose FCC developed the net neutrality regulations that were scrapped under Trump. “So I’m not really shocked that he has ties to them.”

Sohn said she isn’t too worried about what would happen with net neutrality if Biden were to become president. 

“I fully expect that a President Biden would appoint an FCC chair that would reinstate net neutrality and the FCC’s authority to oversee the broadband market under Title II,” she said. “This was one of President Obama’s signature initiatives, and I can’t imagine that Biden would undermine it.”

Sohn also pointed out that the political landscape has changed on net neutrality since Biden served in the Senate. Net neutrality under Title II is strongly supported both by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, which means that going against strong protections would likely defy a core principle of the party’s current platform.

Rural broadband

Biden has called rebuilding the middle class in America “the moral obligation of our time.” And he sees revitalizing and ensuring economic opportunity in rural America as a cornerstone of that effort. A big part of his rural economic development strategy is investing $20 billion in getting broadband access to communities that don’t have it. He’s also called for partnering with municipal utilities to bring fiber broadband connections to communities across rural America.

“High-speed broadband is essential in the 21st Century economy,” Biden’s rural policy reads. “At a time when so many jobs and businesses could be located anywhere, high-speed internet access should be a great economic equalizer for rural America, not another economic disadvantage.”

The COVID-19 crisis highlights the gaps in coverage. And Biden’s campaign said that the $20 billion in broadband infrastructure funding is meant to help close those gaps. 

“As we face the economic impacts of this global pandemic for months to come, it’s critical we bridge this divide and build a digital infrastructure that is available to all,” the campaign said in a statement regarding this policy. 

The digital divide is an issue Republicans recognize as well. The White House has worked with the FCC on the Rural Digital Opportunity program, which reallocates $20.4 billion in funding to subsidize broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. Trump has also included high-speed internet access as part of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.  


Though Warren pushed to break up big tech companies, like Amazon and Facebook, Biden has said it’s too early to talk about breaking up companies and instead has leaned toward regulation as a way to curb their power.  

Specifically, he’s called for changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives online platforms, like Facebook, legal immunity for content posted by third-party users. The law also gives these companies legal cover to make good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms.

“[The Times] cannot write one thing you realize to be false and be exempt from being sued. However he can,” Biden told The New York Times editorial board in January, referring to Fb CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Biden mentioned Part 230 “instantly needs to be revoked” for Fb and different platforms.

“It needs to be revoked as a result of it isn’t merely an web firm,” Biden continued. “It’s propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we needs to be setting requirements not in contrast to the Europeans are doing relative to privateness.”

In the meantime, Fb and different Silicon Valley gamers have defended Part 230. Nonetheless, the trade hasn’t felt as threatened by Biden because it did by Warren. And with worries about COVID-19, notions like breaking apart massive tech could also be placed on the again burner. 

This is not more likely to change primarily based on his decide of Harris as VP. As California’s legal professional basic, Harris did not tackle trade consolidation, whilst corporations like Fb wolfed up smaller opponents. Nonetheless, Harris has extra just lately known as for platforms, like Fb and Twitter, to crackdown on rampant misinformation — even when that misinformation comes from the present occupant of the White Home. 

Harris was vocal final yr in urging Twitter to ban Trump from the platform for “tweets [that] incite violence, threaten witnesses, and hinder justice.” This was a requirement Twitter rejected. She has additionally been critical of Facebook for failing to do extra to rid its platform of misinformation. 

On-line privateness

On the 2020 marketing campaign path, Biden hasn’t mentioned a lot about information privateness. However throughout his years as a US senator and as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee within the 1990s, he introduced and co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to make it simpler for the FBI and regulation enforcement to watch communications, together with the Communications Help for Regulation Enforcement Act, which permits regulation enforcement to surveil communications over the web, together with voice over IP calls and different web visitors. 

Biden additionally launched two items of laws within the early ’90s — the Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Act and the Violent Crime Control Act — that had been staunchly anti-encryption. As an illustration, his counterterrorism invoice would’ve allowed authorities officers to acquire information and communications from digital service suppliers “when appropriately licensed by regulation.” 

The invoice by no means turned regulation, and expertise has advanced by the years. However the laws is much like calls from Attorney General Wiliam Barr, who’d wish to see tech firms provide regulation enforcement again doorways into gadgets to realize entry to encrypted information. 

For her half, Harris grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his handling of consumer data when he testified earlier than the Senate in 2018 following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, wherein tens of millions of Fb customers’ info was offered to 3rd events with out their data. She’s additionally known as for regulation and oversight to guard client info.

China and tariffs

Democrats throughout the board have been essential of Trump’s tariff battle with China, which has affected imports on a variety of tech merchandise. Tariffs are taxes paid by importers on items arriving from overseas nations, and Trump has used them to strain the Chinese language authorities on broader commerce points. Two rounds of tariffs, together with a 15% tariff on merchandise like phones, laptops and tablets, have gone into impact. One other spherical was averted in a “phase one” commerce deal. 

On the marketing campaign path, Democratic candidates, together with Biden and Harris, have been mild on specifics as to how they’d take care of China. However Biden has made it clear he believes Trump’s negotiations have harm People. He says the US wants “new guidelines” and “new processes” to dictate trade relationships with foreign countries.

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Marguerite Reardon