Now Trump appears to be firming up other aspects of his tech policy agenda by reportedly bringing on an economist and Washington think-tanker who has battled regulation for much of his career. According to Politico, Trump's transition team has tapped Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, for advice on tech and telecom policy. (Separately, Trump's team appears to have met with tech and telecom companies recently but did not discuss policy during the event.)
When asked, Eisenach declined to confirm his position with the Trump campaign. But a closer look at Eisenach's policy papers signals how Trump might try to shape the digital economy of the future, should he be elected as president. Here are some arguments Eisenach has put forward over the years.
We don't need net neutrality.
As a refresher, net neutrality is the idea that all Internet businesses — from your indie start-up all the way up to behemoths like Google and Facebook — should be treated equally by the Internet providers who give you access to those sites. Companies like Comcast and Verizon, the idea goes, shouldn't be allowed to give preferential treatment to the online businesses they like, and discriminate against those they don't.
Eisenach thinks there may be legitimate concerns about Internet providers wielding their "market power" this way, to use some economics lingo. But he doesn't believe net neutrality rules are the right way to address them. In fact, he views net neutrality more as a regulatory gift to online businesses who lobbied hard for the rules.
"It is best understood as an effort by one set of private interests [the tech industry] to enrich itself by using the power of the state to obtain free services from another [Internet providers]," Eisenach told a Senate committee in 2014, "a classic example of what economists term 'rent seeking.'"
Hate the game, not the players.
Eisenach's remarks should remind us of Trump. First, much in the way Trump has defended his use of the tax code to his own benefit, Eisenach doesn't necessarily fault Internet businesses for trying to influence government policy.
They have "every right — even, arguably, an obligation — to look out for their own interests," added Eisenach in his Senate testimony.
In this respect, Eisenach and Trump are both pointing to a system that, in a sometimes flawed manner, allows businesses and wealthy individuals to extract gains by outmaneuvering their fellow peers in the policy arena. This view basically holds that so long as the system is set up this way, it is perfectly legitimate to seek out advantages within it; the government just shouldn't grant any new ones.
On net neutrality, for example, Eisenach's preferred approach is to forgo any proactive regulation, letting companies and regulatory agencies duke out their disputes with big lawsuits. This should also please Trump, a businessman who has not been shy about litigation.
Streaming music companies shouldn't get to pay lower royalties.
Eisenach is an opponent of the Internet Radio Fairness Act (IRFA), a bill introduced in Congress in 2012 aimed at lowering what companies such as Pandora pay to copyright holders in exchange for the ability to play their music. (Note that Pandora, which largely doesn't let you pick and choose specific songs to listen to, is treated differently under copyright rules than services like Spotify, which do allow you to consume music on demand.)
The big question surrounding this topic is whether Internet radio services deserve shelter from, as some proponents of the legislation put it at the time, "royalty rates at cripplingly high levels." And where you fall on this question turns on whether you believe companies like Pandora can innovate fast enough to survive, given the kind of environment in which they operate. (It also tends to correlate with your view of record labels, for better or for worse.)
Eisenach argues that the explosive growth of online music services — with listeners spending on average six hours a week on the technology in 2008 compared to almost 9.5 hours a week by 2012 — shows there's a vibrant market here that doesn't need fixing. As with net neutrality, Eisenach points to the IRFA as an attempt by Pandora to shape U.S. policy to benefit its own interests.
"Pandora has been a major beneficiary of that growth, and while – like any firm – it would prefer to pay less for inputs into its production process, there is no public policy basis for forcing content creators to subsidize it or other webcasters by setting royalties at below-market rates," Eisenach wrote in a 2012 paper.
Microsoft should've been broken up.
When Microsoft got hauled before antitrust officials for bundling Internet Explorer with every copy of Windows at the expense of alternative browsers, Eisenach was among those who wanted the software company to pay a heavy price. He advocated for splitting Microsoft into four new, competing companies: one that built apps and programs, and three that built operating systems.
The three operating-system firms would have complete permission to build and sell Windows, meaning that if one of them tried to collude with the applications company to bundle apps, the others would have enough marketshare to put a stop to it.
"By creating competing Windows companies, the hybrid remedy directly addresses the monopoly problem, which is the source of Microsoft’s anticompetitive behavior," wrote Eisenach and a colleague in a court filing at the time.
It's unclear how many of Eisenach's policies Trump might adopt — if he listens to Eisenach at all. But in the absence of any official campaign stance on tech, Eisenach's prior writings are about as solid a guide as we can hope for.