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To regulate or not regulate technology

First, a disclaimer. 

As with every thing I write down on Tumblr, these thoughts are my own personal thoughts and do not represent companies in our portfolio, nor do they represent my partners point of view. They are simply my own and they are subject to change :)

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I’ve been thinking a great deal about how much government we want in our technology business world. Or how little we want it.

As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not binary.

Few things that are on my radar and my thoughts on whether the government should get involved:

Network Neutrality

To date the government has not fully regulated how the web should work. There has been a lot of talk and debate, but right now if a mobile operator wants to block a certain website, they could do that. Similarly, Comcast could do the same thing by several different methods. 

I think this is wrong. I would rather see mobile and landline ISPs practice non-discrimanatory behavior. I believe it’s better for their buisness and better for end users. If they do descriminate, I think the government should step in and adopt something that was proposed several years ago by the FCC

My rationale is the the internet belongs to all of us and there isn’t a real choice when it comes to broadband access today. And unlike the rest of the tech sector, angel investors and venture capitalists are unable to fund last mile broadband alternatives. As a result, there isn’t any reasonable competition or alternative. 

Employee Rights

Companies should treat their employees honestly and fairly. If they do, they will attract the best employees.

Given that incentive, logic would suggest we don’t need to regulate how companies treat their employees because if they mistreat them, the employee will leave. Right? Wrong.

I’m glad the government has stepped in and forbid companies from discrimination based on gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. 

Non-competition agreements

Since leaving the bay area and moving back to MA in 2001, I have been beating the drum as loudly as I possibly can to end employee non compete agreements.

I believe they stifle innovation.

While I am frustrated that non-compete agreements are fully used and enforced in this state, I am happy that more and more tech companies are doing away with them in the state of MA (e.g. zynga, google, and a bunch of startups). 

So part of me feels like, maybe we don’t need government regulation. After wall, if thought leaders like Zynga and Google do away with these things in Cambridge, perhaps EMC, Akamai and others will follow suit if only to attract the best talent.

I hope that happens. I really do. But just like other employee rights issues, I don’t think relying on the private sector is good enough. We need state government to act in this case. I see no reason why employees in this state should have less rights than employees in other states like California. 

And to my fellow VCs that support non-competes, why do we insist on them here and not insist on them when you back a team in SF? Not right. 

Technology companies

I have been working on the tech community for over 20 years. I’ve only worked in this field. And over the past two decades I have seen our government pay close attention to how some dominant technology companies behave.

The most obvious case, was the US DOJ and Microsoft. At the time, it was huge news and many folks at the DOJ and in the tech community wanted to see MSFT busted up and regulated. 

They were upset at how MSFT was bundling their browser wtih their dominant operating system. 

I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that the government should regulate tech companies in such a mannor.

There is simply too much innovation happening that the market will change the landscape.

Just look at the browser market then vs now. Look at the mobile landscape. There are many other examples. MSFT dominance in the late 90’s is just a memory. Do we think that Google doesn’t have competition today? Or Facebook? or Apple? They are at risk by other large companies and all of the crazy, brilliant, audacious startups that are being funded every day in startup land. 

Patents

My friends at Foundry and USV have articulated very well why the current patent model is a mess. And I completely agree. The objective for the patent system is to reward the innovator. That is noble and I want that to exist. But the patent system today rewards either the troll or the very large companies. Startups cannot afford to defend themselves in patent litigation unless they are very well financed. And startups should be funding innovation, not litigation.

There are many other topics that are worthy of attention. 

At the end of the day, I’m pretty convinced you can’t be either completley for or completely against government regulation and oversight in our business.

It requires thoughtfulness and clear discussion on a topic by topic basis.