Five key players for Trump on tech

Many in the tech world are on edge about President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, wondering what his positions will be on the issues facing their industry.

Trump focused little on technology policy during his meteoric rise to the White House. That has left many in the industry looking elsewhere for clues about the administration’s likely direction.

Here are five of the biggest players to watch on tech.

Peter Thiel

There is little debate about who in the tech world is closest to the president-elect.

Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, was arguably the sole top Silicon Valley executive to have publicly backed Trump during the campaign.

He was also one of Trump’s biggest donors, having contributed $1.25 million in support of his campaign.

Thiel, who was also an early investor in Facebook, was the driving force behind last month’s meeting between Silicon Valley executives and the president-elect at Trump Tower. During the meeting, Thiel sat at Trump’s side. 

Thiel’s support for Trump and his more controversial statements made him a pariah in the liberal-leaning Silicon Valley, but the self-identified libertarian is getting the last laugh, as he is sure to play an important role advising the new administration.

He is also reportedly considering a run for governor in California in 2018, in a race that may pit him against another billionaire, the Democratic environmentalist Tom Steyer.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Thune chairs the influential Senate Commerce Committee, making him perhaps the most important lawmaker when it comes to technology policy. With Republican control of both Congress and the White House, his stock is on the rise.

Thune will oversee the confirmation process for Trump’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and will likely have a say in who is selected to chair the commission.

After Obama renominated Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel for another term at the FCC, Thune signaled that he was willing to support her confirmation if she were nominated by Trump after the inauguration.

“I publicly supported Commissioner Rosenworcel’s confirmation last Congress, and I continue to appreciate her service,” he said in a statement. “That said, now that we are just days away from Inauguration, I believe the president-elect deserves to be able to nominate the commissioners he wants to serve. I am open to the idea of confirming her later this year, as long as we preserve the new Republican majority on the commission in the process.”

Some of Thune’s legislative priorities could get more traction under the Trump administration, including sharing government-owned wireless spectrum with the private sector, rewriting the Communications Act and expanding broadband access to rural communities. 

Ajit Pai

Pai, who met with the president-elect at Trump Tower on Monday, is widely seen as Tom Wheeler’s likely successor as chairman of the FCC.

As chairman, Pai will get to set the FCC’s agenda and potentially reverse policies imposed under Wheeler, including net neutrality. Pai has already expressed interest in reevaluating the rules as soon as possible.

Pai will also likely have a hand in shaping rump’s antitrust policy.

While the Department of Justice plays a primary role in assessing competition laws in regards to mergers and acquisitions, the FCC can evaluate tech mergers if FCC licenses are swapped in the deal. The FCC has much more flexibility in reviewing mergers than the Justice Department and can reject them on the more loose standards of being “not in the public interest.”

Trump has blasted mergers like the $85 billion AT&T–Time Warner deal and the already approved Comcast–NBCUniversal deal. Still, many expect the new administration will look favorably upon most mergers.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

Blackburn was recently named the chairwoman of the House Commerce subcommittee on technology, taking over the gavel from Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is now chairing the full committee.

The Tennessee Republican is an outspoken opponent of the net neutrality rules enshrined in the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which was adopted in 2015. Net neutrality is the general principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally. 

Republicans have long criticized the FCC’s pursuit of net neutrality, viewing it as unnecessary regulation that will stifle innovation.

Blackburn, who is part of the Trump transition team, has sought to roll back the rule a number of times through her Internet Freedom Act, though she has not succeeded in getting it all the way through Congress.

But now she is in the driver’s seat in the fight against net neutrality in whatever form it may take. The FCC will soon be handed over to Republican control, but she has not ruled out making another run at net neutrality by reintroducing the Internet Freedom Act.

“I’ve always got that in my back pocket,” she told The Hill in an interview last week.

Trump’s FCC landing team 

The Trump transition’s FCC landing team will be in charge of setting the agenda and recommending hires for the new administration when it takes over the agency.

The group consists of three scholars from the conservative American Enterprise Institute: Roslyn Layton, Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach, as well as David Morken, the founder of Republic Wireless and 

Layton, Jamison and Eisenach are all critics of net neutrality and are generally seen as traditional conservatives when it comes to telecommunications policy. 

Morken, on the other hand, who was the last of the group to be tapped by the transition, apparently has not gone on record as opposing the rules and even voiced his concern about the first three members of the landing team.

“Traditional Republican telecom policy has favored incumbents who are heavily engaged in regulatory capture over innovators like us,” Morken told The Wall Street Journal in early December, just weeks before he was hired by the transition.

Tags Donald Trump John Thune Marsha Blackburn

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