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3 Reasons Why What Happens in Washington Matters to Silicon Valley

by Jane Susskind, published

Technology has undoubtably changed the way our political system functions in America. Facebook, Twitter, and Google all played pivotal roles in last year's election. Social media now allows for transparent and open legislating, with lawmakers like Rep. Justin Amash and Rep. Jared Polis sharing their policy making decisions with their constituents online.

The Silicon Valley, however, home to the biggest names in the tech industry, has remained relatively quiet when it comes to politics -  until recently. So, what's driving civic engagement among the previously apolitical industry?

(1) Net Neutrality 

The debate over net neutrality, or the belief that Internet service providers should provide access to all content and applications equally, has been ongoing since the early 2000s, with advocates of net neutrality pushing for a more open and "fair" Internet.

The recent debate, brought to light by Verizon's challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Open Internet Order, focuses on the government's role in net neutrality.

Proponents for the FCC's regulations argue that government involvement is necessary to ensure that all services have equal opportunity to grow.

“Every user every day benefits from this rule for the services they use, whether it’s YouTube or Twitter or something else,” attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology told AFP.

Tech policy expert and professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Susan Crawford says “Verizon vs. FCC presents a very significant historical moment," and that without the government's role in a robust and open Internet, the American tech industry will trail globally to countries focusing on providing high-speed broadband networks.

Whether or not Washington can regulate ISPs, like Verizon, will undoubtably be a contributing factor in the continued growth of most, if not all tech companies that rely heavily on the Internet.

If it didn't have such of an impact on Silicon Valley, why would Google flip-flop on their support for the FCC's net neutrality now that they've got their own broadband network?

Related: Verizon Net Neutrality Case Against FCC May Be Landmark

(2) Immigration 

The Silicon Valley has been paying close attention to the immigration debate, with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, among others in the Valley, pushing for comprehensive reform through the 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization,

While immigrants make up just "12 percent of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52 percent of Silicon Valley's technology companies and contributed to more than 25 percent of our global patents," Businessweek reports.

The Silicon Valley needs highly-skilled immigrants, and the 65,000 limit on H-1B visas is reason enough for the tech industry to lobby for a change.

Related: Zuckerberg's Campaign Is About Employees, Not Immigration Reform

(3) Privacy 

Privacy has taken center stage in recent political discussions, with the NSA scandal sparking a reaction from  otherwise politically inactive companies.

Twitter, for example, has remained relatively quiet when it comes to politics. Early August, however, the social media giant set up a political action committee, which they are calling Twitter#PAC, and appointed their current policy manager, William Carty, to lobby in Washington on issues relating to patent reform, privacy, Internet freedom and net neutrality. One month later, Twitter announced plans for an initial public offering.

Privacy, in specific, has been a monumental concern to Twitter, which received 33 percent more government requests for user information in the first half of this year than in 2012.

Tech industries, which thrive on the collection and spread of user information, logically have a vested interest in Washington's privacy debate, with Facebook's re-haul of their privacy policy a recent example of the influence Washington has over the West Coast industries.

In response to the growing impact of policy on technology, the once docile companies of the Silicon Valley are fighting back. With an arsenal of influence and money, do you think the tech industry will be successful in shaping policy in Washington?

Photo Credit: Gizmodo

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