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What Trump or Clinton wins will mean to technology

It’s uncertainty and chaos versus the status quo, so pick your poison America.

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Trump or Clinton Wins:

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The only good thing about the interminable U.S. election is that it’s almost over. In just two short days, the seemingly endless fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will finally be ended and one will be left standing – barring a recount or coup afterward, but that’s another story.

Assuming the United States doesn’t devolve into something resembling the Mad Max movies – and it may not be smart to bet against that happening – the nation is going to have to get back down to business.

There are many fronts to explore in that case, but our purpose here is to examine what a Trump or Clinton presidency will mean to U.S. technology, and to the larger tech world by extension.

In Trump’s case, predictions are difficult to make because no one, including the man himself, rightly knows.

As in so many other matters, Trump has shown a profound ignorance of technology and the internet. He famously said he wants to close off parts of the internet – those being used by ISIS – and that he plans to go see Bill Gates about how to do that. He has admitted to using email rarely and to not owning a computer.

He isn’t in favour of encryption and believes law enforcement agencies should have access to whatever devices or servers they want. He has encouraged foreign criminals to hack Clinton and is “super anti-net neutrality.”

Then again, Trump isn’t exactly known for consistency so none of these opinions should be taken with any seriousness.

One example is his position on AT&T’s current attempt to buy Time Warner, which he says he would kill because such deals “destroy democracy.” That flies against his normally anti-interventionist policies, not to mention those of libertarian Jeffrey Eisenach, one of his key telecom advisors.

(Eisenach appeared in Canada last week arguing for differential pricing at a CRTC hearing on behalf of Telus, by the way.)

Tech companies and businesses in general loathe this sort of inconsistency, which breeds uncertainty. Rules and regulations under Trump could and probably would change quickly, making it difficult to make future plans.

Not surprisingly, the list of tech companies and entrepreneurs who would likely move out of the country is long. On the upside, such a diaspora would be good for other countries. Canadian companies such as Waterloo, Ont.-based startup Sortable have been pitching themselves to Americans in this very vein.

Win or lose, there is the high likelihood that Trump will launch his own news platform, with a heavy presence on Facebook and Twitter. So there’s that to look forward to.

Clinton, not a tech expert herself, would bring considerably less risk and potential chaos if elected. While dogged by the private email server issue for most of the election – the FBI exonerated her of wrongdoings for a second time over the weekend – Clinton as president would likely mean status quo for U.S. technology, which is probably a good thing.

Silicon Valley soared to new heights under eight years of Barack Obama, a result that has more to do with his administration staying out of the way than anything else.

The Federal Communications Commission has completely transformed under his tenure, though, coinciding with a similar change at the CRTC in Canada.

After years of being too cozy with the communications companies they oversee, both regulators have become much more consumer focused in recent years. What’s amazing is that it happened in the U.S. under a more liberal administration, while in Canada the new attitude was ushered in by the Conservative Stephen Harper government.

In any event, the FCC has taken on an activist role in recent years, enshrining net neutrality rules, fighting to open cable boxes and, most recently, enacting rules that protect users’ privacy from internet providers.

Clinton, who supports net neutrality, seems inclined to keep the FCC on its path and isn’t likely to make major changes.

She has also promised to improve broadband and has a detailed tech agenda, which includes increased funding for science and math education, more loans for startups and even repurposing wireless spectrum, among other issues.

It’s a comprehensive read, which explains why Clinton has attracted almost all of Silicon Valley’s contributions, as reported by FiveThirtyEight:

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Technology seems like an unimportant side issue in this unprecedented U.S. election, but in some ways it actually cuts to the centre of the entire affair.

Trump’s rise and continued success speaks to the wave of anti-intellectualism sweeping the nation, a sequel of sorts to the similarly motivated Brexit movement earlier this year in Europe. Silicon Valley and tech elites also figure prominently in the issue of income inequality, which has been a major driving force in this election and in Brexit.

It has become clear that the benefits of the technological revolution of the past two decades haven’t been equally distributed, and the frustration with that is starting to boil over. Trump has tapped into that discontent but Clinton, if she wins, is going to have to make the amelioration of it job one.

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