The Internet Association Sends Trump Its Wish List

The letter papers over the tech industry's discomfort with the President-elect's incendiary stances on social issues and tries to get down to business.

A trade group representing many of the country’s most well-known technology companies sent an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump, sidestepping the industry’s near universal opposition to his candidacy and laying out a laundry list of policy priorities for the next four years. The letter called for Trump to leave most internet regulations untouched.

Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, congratulated the president-elect on his victory, and presented him with a 10-page policy agenda. Beckerman’s group represents Silicon Valley giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, as well as tech’s biggest startups, like Airbnb and Uber. The document released Monday is notable in that the same list of priorities could have been sent to a President-elect Hillary Clinton, or written two years ago.

"The internet represents the best of American innovation, freedom and ingenuity," Beckerman wrote. "Businesses of all sizes are able to connect with new customers at the touch of a button and compete on a global scale in ways impossible just a decade ago. Nowhere was this more apparent than your use of the internet to connect with, and energize voters throughout the campaign."

The association's letter is the latest signal that Silicon Valley is looking to move past conflicts over Trump’s incendiary comments about minorities and women and get back to business as usual. 

While Trump’s views on many technology issues remain somewhat of a mystery, there are several key areas where he’s likely to clash with the industry. The Internet Association didn’t take a position in the presidential race, but it supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement that Trump maligned regularly during his campaign. Many of the proposals in the letter center on how future trade agreements should maximize the free flow of data across borders by eliminating laws that, for example, require information to be stored locally.

The group also wants these agreements to enshrine American standards on issues like copyright and protection for websites against being held accountable for content posted by their users. Trump hasn’t laid out clear approaches to these issues, aside from staking a more confrontational approach to trade agreements in general. 

The association's stance on encryption, in which it calls for the federal government not to require companies to build back doors into their products, also conflicts with Trump’s statements earlier this year on the dispute between Apple and the FBI over access to data on iPhones connected to law enforcement and national security cases. 

Then there's immigration. The tech industry has been pushing for years for looser rules on high-skilled immigration. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly urged a broader deal on immigration, in part through another group, which was highly critical of Trump's immigration proposals and called for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. The Internet Association steers clear of this kind of talk and focuses on programs to bring highly skilled workers into the country. Policy strategists have argued that this element of immigration policy is much less controversial than the areas that Trump focuses on, like border security and deporting people who are in the country without legal status. He’s expressed contradictory views on the H-1B visa program, a popular way for software companies to bring in foreign citizens to work full-time in the U.S. 

On many issues, Silicon Valley seems in step with Trump’s general anti-regulatory approach. The concern about strict federal labor laws impairing the on-demand economy are likely to fade in the next year years, for instance. An exception is likely to be the Obama administration’s rules on net neutrality, which the Internet Association supported over Republican opposition. The letter calls on the Trump administration to stay the course on net neutrality, which requires internet provides to treat web traffic equally regardless of the service being used. But it doesn’t take an explicit stand on the FCC’s power to enforce the rules, even though undermining this authority is almost certainly going to be the path that Republican opponents of the policy take to reverse it. 

The group's letter also subtly supports a controversial Facebook program known as Free Basics, through which the company would provide free Internet access to some services (including Facebook) to low-income populations that might not be able to afford access otherwise.

Facebook’s attempt to develop free basics in India failed earlier this year amid public opposition and regulatory scrutiny. The Washington Post reported last month that Facebook was in talks with officials about launching a version of the program in the U.S. 

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