The past few years and months have been, to put it lightly, volatile from a political perspective. But now, a new administration is forming a government. Naturally, we are all wondering what that means for us, whether it be personally, economically, or in terms of our business. It's no different in our industry. Inauguration day for web professionals is fun because we watch a changeover of WhiteHouse.gov – one of the coolest deployments as professionals we get to be a consumer of. But more than that, what does the incoming administration mean for our industry as a whole? This week, we will look at some potential areas the government may now address and what that could mean for you or your business. While some of these ideas may be relatively high-level, remember that what happens there trickles downstream to everyone, even small businesses, so it makes sense to stay informed.
The Digital Industry in General
The last Democratic administration overlapped with massive changes in the digital world. It's easy to forget that when President Obama was sworn in, the iPhone was only about a year old. From 2009 through 2017, we saw incredible advancement of the digital medium. During the Trump administration, much of the progress online was not technologically based but content-driven. In other words, we haven't seen significant innovation in devices or hardware, but instead, we've focused our energy on what we do with those devices.
What will this new administration mean for the digital world? This is still to be determined, but if history is any indicator, I'd expect more broad acceptance of specific technology trends in government and a renewed focus on using technology as part of our government's day to day operations. I hope that the new administration will embrace more digital tools in executing their plans and messaging. When that happens, it means that those mechanisms become more mainstream to all Americans.
As part of the government's COVID-19 response, we've heard more talk of increased investment in infrastructure. Sure, we typically hear that word and think of roads, bridges, and airports. It also means a focus on delivering broadband connectivity to areas of the country that still are underserved in this area. As most of us know, the lack of connectivity has affected some population centers disproportionately during this pandemic, denying the opportunity to work from home for some and making online learning challenging for kids.
One area of positive innovation would be if this infrastructure initiative increased broadband access. This, in turn, would allow the development of a labor pool of distributed workers who could be trained in the latest technology trends. Such a thing would allow more of our work to be in-sourced domestically, bringing high-paying jobs to areas needing economic stimulus. How does this translate to your business? More access to high-speed connections means more consumers for your company, as well. In all, this is a win-win scenario.
Typically, regulation is associated more broadly with one of our political parties than the other. However, recently, the idea of regulation of the internet is something both parties are beginning to embrace. The dialogue online has turned venomous. I expect that we'll see concepts such as Section 230 revisited. This could mean a lot for content-driven websites, especially those with user-generated content. I'm pretty sure almost every American at this point realizes a subset of the internet is dysfunctional. However, to what extent it can be regulated, given the fine line between free speech – and, to put it mildly - toxic behavior - will be challenging to navigate. Like anything else, how this affects your business in the short-term is indeterminate. But I expect the rhetoric around this issue to increase and advance, perhaps even to the discussion of breaking up the major internet companies. This could potentially shake things up. As we know - government officials have a sadly low level of understanding in terms of how the internet works. But, they most likely do have a point - too much is controlled by the largest internet companies and there probably is a need to look carefully at areas of concern.
We have also seen other regulations in terms of data usage and privacy. Take CCPA as an example. I'm unsure the federal government gets too deeply involved with similar legislation, especially given that CCPA, in essence, is the law of the land, given the dynamics of the internet. But, you never know…
I think it's safe to assume that the Biden administration will reverse what the last administration's FCC did regarding net neutrality. This topic is controversial, but after the rule changes, we didn't see much in terms of changes that were feared. That doesn't mean they are not coming - if you give internet providers an inch, they typically will try to take a mile. As a reminder, the 2018 repeal of net neutrality laws enables providers to do various troublesome things, such as allowing faster access to one service and slower access to others. This bias in service availability and performance is the primary focus of net neutrality, ensuring that every service has the same access and availability level.
This subject is a philosophical difference between the two administrations, and therefore, I expect we'll see it revert to the 2015 rules via a reversal of the 2018 order. Perhaps we'd even see Congress involved, though, they have bigger fish to fry in the short-term.
ADA Guidelines & Enforcement
One area of focus for us that could trickle down your way is federal enforcement of ADA Accessibility regulations. This area is still governed loosely and, in many ways, one of the last "wild west" topics on the internet. I would expect the new administration will take this quite seriously. Perhaps even evidenced by the sign language translated pledge of allegiance at the Inaugural ceremony.
We've covered ADA exhaustively on our blog, and we'd recommend that in 2021 it becomes a priority for your organization to address accessibility issues.
The last administration had to deal with the idea of cybersecurity in a way that previous administrations had not. It started with the cloud of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election and culminated with the Solarwinds cyberattacks of late 2020. Overall, I expect that there will be a greater focus and concern with regards to cybersecurity in the new administration. The last administration was often apt to overlook such issues, mainly because the subject of Russian interference wasn't something they wanted to discuss too often. I would expect more laws, oversight, and more law enforcement involvement in these matters. This should spawn even more players in the security space, and even more laws and insurance requirements.
Who this Affects First?
A small business can often go years without worrying about many issues of regulation, compliance, or similar. Many laws and regulations such as CCPA even carve out small businesses from compulsory compliance. Most typically, these issues affect enterprise users first. This means that large organizations and marketing teams will need to follow the advancements carefully in each of these areas and work to stay compliant, if not ahead of, changes as they are presented.
Luckily, these changes do happen slowly, with proper warning. I expect whatever does happen won't be groundbreaking but rather iterative adjustments to many regulations that already exist. So, no one will go out of business over these changes, but they will need to be adhered to.
There is an overall feeling that Democratic administrations are a bit more tech-friendly. I expect that to carry through to this one, too. However, the past few years' events will shine a spotlight on online activity, and it's inevitable we'll be looking at how these sites are run, monetized, and policed.