State legislatures, local councils, and courts across the country have reacted in different manners to the rise of the sharing and gig economies in an effort to oversee or regulate disruptive technology. A critical rule to follow is that any new legal or regulatory requirements should be tailored to the new product, directly tied to an identified harm, limited to gaps in existing coverage, focused on bad actors, and narrowly tailored to avoid conflicts or discrepancies in the law and unintended consequences, and corresponding rules and regulations that apply to legacy providers should be adjusted accordingly to allow for technological neutrality. TechNet will promote policies that encourage the development of entrepreneurship, mobile commerce, and the next wave of innovation in the new economy. Establishing an innovation-friendly policy framework is the key to the competitiveness of the technology industry. TechNet supports the following:
Access to Markets
While legislatures, local councils, and courts must balance new innovations with consumer protection, TechNet opposes regulatory restrictions imposed to protect existing markets from competition, such as excessive insurance requirements, caps on the number of services a company can provide, and unreasonable barriers to market entry.
TechNet supports legislation to protect consumers when it is based on an identifiable harm that has or could occur. TechNet opposes legislation that regulates specific technologies based on unknown impacts to a consumer. In circumstances where policymakers have identified a significant threat or occurrence of harm that is not already prohibited or otherwise addressed by existing law or regulation, the cost, difficulty, and practicality of implementing new rules and regulations should be analyzed against the magnitude and probability of potential harm. Further, policymakers should note the difficulties inherent in state or local regulation of companies and products that are multi-state or global in operations, including the interplay of other state or federal legal requirements.
TechNet supports efforts to increase access to capital, including policy efforts to promote intrastate crowdsourcing and other cutting edge funding mechanisms.
Access to Innovation
Far too many federally funded research projects fail to move from the idea phase to the new business phase. State and federal law should be changed to encourage faster, more efficient commercialization of federally funded research. TechNet supports the use of non-exclusive licenses to promote competitive markets, the exploration of new ownership models, including co-ownership between inventors and universities.
Access to Talent
The modern workforce requires a flexible employment environment that allows workers to find opportunities that best match their skills, interests, and availability. TechNet opposes efforts to eliminate or severely restrict this essential flexibility, including restrictions on the use of independent contractor and consultant classifications, inflexible overtime rules, and indiscriminate expansion of collective bargaining rules. TechNet supports efforts to develop new avenues and “safe-harbors” that empower companies to voluntarily provide benefits to workers where appropriate without impacting classification outcomes.
Consumer choice, satisfaction, and empowerment are hallmarks of transformative technology products. TechNet will support efforts to protect the free-speech rights of consumers and their ability to engage the public and providers in a transparent and clear manner. In addition, TechNet will support policies and efforts to ensure a competitive and unrestricted online ticketing market.
TechNet member companies have developed and continue to maintain significant policies and practices that protect the environment and promote conservation, recycling, and waste reduction. Efforts to expand or create new mandated environmental programs should be inclusive, balanced, flexible, and data-driven in order to achieve stated aims and avoid significant disruption.
TechNet sees the internet as a key tool for consumers’ access to information and empowerment. Embracing policies that expand access to the internet and technology, provide a safe and secure consumer experience, and promote strong industry competition (while opposing provisions that would create unnecessary regulations or legal requirements) is a core value of TechNet. TechNet will support government efforts to increase deployment to unserved areas and increase adoption.
Reasonable Statutory and Regulatory Framework
New technologies bring new products and services to the market. Occasionally, these new products and services generate significant policymaker interest because of transformative features with little precedent and high consumer interface. Autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and self-service healthcare are examples.
While some lawmaking may be needed or helpful, TechNet will be vigilant against unnecessary, harmful, or hostile laws and regulations. Generally speaking, efforts to modernize the legal framework can be supported if they:
- Support the underlying and future innovation inherent in the product or service.
- Focus on prohibiting negligent, reckless, or criminal conduct and on the actors rather than the technology.
- Avoid duplicating existing requirements and creating unclear overlap or conflicts with existing requirements.
- Encourage the expedition of the regulatory process to align with the speed of developing technologies.
- Recognize the benefits of the new technology.
The composition of the U.S. workforce is changing as demographic shifts impact labor supply and demand, interstate commerce and international trade grow, and technology makes it easier for people to work independently and run their own businesses. Over time, in large part due to the growth of the gig and sharing economies, the independent workforce has grown to become a sizable share of the American labor pool, and is only anticipated to grow larger in the coming years.
Many in the modern, independent workforce find they get better financial returns on their skills than similar groups in the traditional workforce. Perhaps the biggest benefit to this new workforce is the flexibility self-employment, independent contracting, and freelancing provide, which allows the independent workforce to balance work, family, and leisure activities differently than employees. But with this flexibility comes challenges regarding the provision of benefits — medical, dental, vision, disability, etc.
To address these challenges, state and federal policymakers are beginning to attempt to regulate how, or if, companies who use this new independent workforce to provide services also provide benefits. As policies are introduced to address the growth of the new economy, it is important to maintain the flexibility needed for both online and offline and commoditized and differentiated business models for finding work and the diverse independent workforce (“commoditized” meaning a platform or agency that sets the price of the service and assigns a provider of services to a buyer of those services, and “differentiated” meaning a platform or agency acting as a marketplace that enables sellers of services to connect to buyers of those services and prices are negotiated).
Any portable benefits program should be guided by the following principles:
- Participation should be voluntary, and the program should maintain the flexibility these workers seek while avoiding making the American independent workforce too expensive. These programs and policymakers should be cognizant of the differences between online and offline commoditized and differentiated business models.
- The program should empower companies to provide portable benefits to workers by establishing a safe harbor with respect to the independent contractor status of workers.
- The program should avoid duplicating existing requirements or creating unclear or confusing overlaps or conflicts with existing requirements.
- The program should not impede the ability of self-employed workers, independent contractors, freelancers, and other small businesses to find work online by mandating “one-size-fits-all” benefits policies.
- The program should recognize the promise of flexibility, diversity, and inclusion inherent in the new economy and the opportunities the new economy brings to traditionally underserved workers and consumers, and small and large businesses alike.
- States should engage multiple stakeholders, or convene task forces/working groups, to gather feedback and assess how states would implement a portable benefits program, assuming a federal-level program is not established.