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The Tech Industry Is Worried About What Trump Will Do Next!

Much of the Collision conference that wrapped up here Thursday was filled with the sort of optimistic banter about The Future you can hear at many other confabs. But part of it doubled as therapy for tech types anxious and angry over what President Trump and the Republican majorities supporting him in the House and the Senate might do to shape that future.

As investor Chris Sacca put it in a talk Wednesday afternoon: “I have a very sincere fear for the plight of the United States of America right now.”

In general, participants at Collision seemed largely concerned about two aspects of the Trump administration’s agenda: immigration reform and the ongoing battle over net neutrality. At the same time, Sacca and other speakers at the conference noted their own responsibilities for Trump’s election win.

Borders and Immigration

A panel Thursday afternoon on the importance of immigration to the tech industry pointed out some competitiveness the U.S. would face if officials make it harder for foreign-born techies to bring their talents here.

“I think we’re on the wrong side of the trend,” said Hired founder Matt Mickiewicz. “In Singapore, you can literally get a work permit in one week [….] By June of this year in Canada, you’ll be able to get a work permit in just two weeks.”

As a result, he observed later in the discussion, tech companies “are now hiring a lot more engineers in Canada.”

Another panelist, Aspect Ventures managing partner Theresia Gouw, predicted a cut in the number of H-1B visas, the relatively small number of work permits provided to foreign engineers hired by U.S. companies that say they can’t find enough qualified employees among citizens.

“We certainly won’t be getting more of them,” she said, calling out that category of visa as “a priority of this administration.”

(During the campaign, Trump pledged to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program”; in April, he signed an executive order supporting reform of that program.)

In a separate panel, Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director Cindy Cohn said that the civil-rights group planned to challenge another growing threat: Customs and Border Protection agents demanding that people arriving from overseas surrender their phones and even the passwords to them.

“We’re looking for a good test case,” she said — preferably a U.S. citizen subjected to this treatment.

Net neutrality

The swift moves by Trump’s newly appointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to undo the net-neutrality rules passed by the commission under President Obama were no more popular among Collision speakers.

“I was stunned at the way net neutrality and all of the things we have fought for in terms of the internet just got blown away,” Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson said in an onstage interview Thursday. “We’ve had these massive changes in the past few weeks, and I just keep saying, ‘where’s the outrage?’”

Dozens of tech firms paid for exhibit space in the convention center here in the hope of getting attention from investors or journalists, and many of their services involve sending large amounts of data across the internet.

Without regulations banning internet providers from blocking or slowing sites or just charging them for priority delivery of their data to their subscribers, those firms could risk shakedowns from internet providers. As Isaacson put it, “Half the companies trying to start-up in that hall are going to have problems if you eliminate net neutrality.”

Lessons learned?

The Trump talk wasn’t all gloom and rage. Some speakers observed that they’d had some long looks into the mirror to see what they’d missed.

In the immigration panel, Felicis Ventures founder Aydin Senkut said his firm had been working to broaden where it invests in startups: “We’re trying to back a lot more companies in cities that are not Silicon Valley, New York, and L.A.”

When asked how much responsibility the tech industry bore for Trump’s use of Twitter as a megaphone, Sacca pled guilty on behalf of the business for ignoring the possibility of abuse.

“I think we have all of the responsibility,” he said. “I think generally we’re naive.”

In a talk that closed out the conference, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian noted two memes that had trended across different parts of the Internet: people protesting Trump’s travel ban, and a FedEx guy rescuing an American flag about to be burned.

He noted that only the first got any discussion among people in his orbit, while the second drew a comparable amount of attention without his notice at the time.

“We have gotten really, really good at seeking out things that we enjoy,” he said. But that triumph of personalized Internet culture has inflicted a cost: “It’s given us these blind spots.”

Tech Overseas

America’s LTE wireless Lags Behind Both Canada And Mexico

A new report on wireless broadband is out, and it may not leave readers cheering “USA! USA!” According to OpenSignal’s study, Mexico, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and more than 50 other countries offer faster LTE cellular data speeds than the U.S.

Still, the latest installment of this biannual survey by the London-based research firm isn’t all bad. OpenSignal’s findings, based on almost 20 million reports collected by its app from 558,260 users in the first quarter of the year, also show that the U.S. is making strong progress in expanding LTE availability to more users, even if it’s not always the fastest.

A need for speed in any language

According to OpenSignal’s data the average LTE download speed in the U.S. was 14.99 megabits per second (Mbps) in the first quarter of 2017. That’s not exactly bad  — it’s an improvement from the 13.95 Mbps average it the survey reported six months earlier. But a wide variety of other countries offered much faster speeds.

A speedier wireless connection means you can download apps faster and share photos quicker, as well as stream Ultra High Definition video and transfer the sort of files that would ordinarily require a wired connection.

Singapore led OpenSignal’s list with an average of 45.62 Mbps, followed by South Korea with 43.46 Mbps and Hungary with 42.61 Mbps.

The next dozen countries all saw average download speeds above 30 Mbps. You can fairly object that most are in one part of Europe or another and therefore don’t require local wireless carriers to cover large expanses like the American West, but Australia still manages 33.76 Mbps while Canada tops out at 30.58 Mbps.

The U.S., meanwhile, lingers in the bottom 20 with 14.99 Mbps. That’s below the worldwide average of 16.4 Mbps and behind Russia (16.64 Mbps), Hong Kong (16.01 Mbps) and Jordan (15.09 Mbps). Sixteen countries trail the States, with India (5.14 Mbps, barely faster than 3G) coming closest in terms of population and area. OpenSignal didn’t post data for China.

Another bandwidth-analysis service, Ookla’s Speedtest.net, posted somewhat consistent numbers in its last round of country-specific figures. It found that LTE-capable phones that could connect to a network in the U.S. averaged 19.61 Mbps over the first six months of 2016. In Canada, LTE phones yielded 25.21 Mbps downloads on average, while in Mexico they managed speeds of 16.19 Mbps.

The other part of the equation: availability

The U.S. might not have the fastest data speeds, but it does have one of the highest “availability” scores — OpenSignal’s term for how much time users stay connected to an LTE network.

We’re fourth in the world with 86.5% availability, after South Korea (96.38%), Japan (93.48%), and Norway (86.6%).

Our nearest neighbors didn’t fare as well. Canada had 81.1% LTE availability and Mexico 69%.

OpenSignal’s data also shows considerable progress for U.S. LTE networks. In November, the company’s data showed domestic LTE availability ranked tenth in the world, at 81.3% and download speeds averaged 13.95 Mbps.

It’s important to note that “availability” doesn’t equal “coverage.” These numbers don’t show that 86.5% of America’s surface has LTE — only that phones running OpenSignal’s apps had LTE signals 86.5% of the time.

Beyond bragging rights

There are two lessons to take away from these data points, and looking up housing costs in Singapore or Seoul should not be either of them.

The first is that competition works. The fear of losing subscribers to rivals has kept the big four U.S. carriers working hard to deliver faster speeds in more areas. And net-neutrality rules that bar internet providers from charging sites extra for faster delivery of their data don’t seem to have held that work back, despite all the forecasts of doom from opponents of open-internet regulations.

The other is that good ideas in telecom policy don’t stop at the water’s edge. We should be willing to look at what other countries have done to speed up broadband access, whether it’s blocking telecom mergers or making it easier for wireless carriers to add capacity — then steal their best ideas without bothering to send a check in return.