On Wednesday, April 22, Internet Association Interim President & CEO Jon Berroya participated in a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel entitled “Will the Techlash Be Livestreamed: How Are Big Tech Companies Navigating the Obstacles of the Coronavirus?”
Berroya joined moderator Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, as well as fellow panelists President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Rob Atkinson, Policy Analyst at Open Markets Institute Daniel Hanley, and President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute Scott Wallsten.
The panel started with a discussion on what the impact of COVID-19 could mean for the tech industry. Atkinson stated that before 2015 there was broad support for progress and advancements in technology, and he hopes that people will become more aware of the usefulness and value they provide now. Clark asked Berroya his thoughts on these comments, to which he agreed that he’s beginning to see sentiments change.
I’m seeing encouraging signs of people thinking more positively, speaking more positively about the contributions these companies are making now that we’re all dealing with social distancing and other things that have been put into place in order to keep everyone safe.Jon Berroya
Berroya also made note of the new website IA recently launched featuring member companies’ responses to COVID-19, and reminded the panel that “at the heart of it, one of the great things that the online services provide is a way for people to connect.”
That’s what they were built to do at the beginning, that’s what they continue to do, and it’s really heartening to see people come back to the realization that this is a really valuable role that these companies and these services provide.
Berroya outlined several company efforts including Lyft working with drivers to provide non-emergency medical transportation to individuals who need access to treatment and services; Airbnb working to help provide frontline medical professionals with safe and free housing close to hospitals where they work; Doordash and Postmates providing relief funds for small businesses and easier access to food; and Amazon ramping up grocery delivery.
It really demonstrates not only the value of the services, but the commitment that these companies have to serving people and their own communities as well.Jon Berroya
Changing Attitudes Towards Tech
Clark went on to ask Berroya if he thinks there’s a chance attitudes toward the tech industry could return to their pre-2015 positivity. Berroya replied that he’s “cautiously optimistic” and believes there are always going to be people who are critical of the approach companies take.
I think there is reason for optimism. Perhaps we can have a conversation that’s more fact based – that’s more based in the reality that the way these companies are operating now is just a further iteration of what they’ve been doing all along.Jon Berroya
The Importance Of Content Moderation
The conversation then shifted to content moderation and the relevance of Section 230 as platforms take down misinformation surrounding COVID-19. Wallsten pointed out that content moderation can be a difficult issue for platforms to deal with, in that “someone will always disagree with where you draw the line simply because of different preferences.” Berroya went on to note the extensive efforts companies have been going through to make sure information on their platforms is properly vetted during the pandemic.
I think that there’s certainly been a lot of beneficial work that the social media companies in particular have been doing to try and surface helpful, useful information that’s been vetted by public health officials about what’s going on.Jon Berroya
Responding To COVID-19
Clark went on to ask Berroya about tech companies’ role in responding to the pandemic and their ability to take action quickly. Berroya responded that it’s all part and parcel of the same effort to take the cards they’ve been dealt and help people in this time of need. Reiterating a point made earlier by Berroya, that companies’ ability to innovate quickly is the “beauty of technology…you can figure out what is missing in the marketplace, and you can provide that.”
[Internet companies] see an opportunity to use the size and scale of their reach for good, for the public benefit.Jon Berroya
Clark also asked about Berroya’s thoughts on the reliability of broadband networks with increased traffic, and internet companies’ pledge to help Americans through this crisis. Berroya commented that it seems like things are going fairly well in terms of broadband connections, but anything that encourages increased access to the internet is something that IA and its members would support.
Our companies are full steam ahead in trying to find ways to provide more services to more people and businesses. A lot of small and medium-sized businesses already were dependent upon our companies in order to reach markets outside of their small regional areas.Jon Berroya
Tech Is Continuing To Support Americans During Challenging Times
Finally, Clark asked the panelists for their thoughts on how the industry moves forward. Atkinson commented that given the current crisis, it’s clear we’re going to need a national push with funding to modernize government for the internet age. Wallsten added that he didn’t want to understate the seriousness of the situation, but believes we’re going to learn a lot from this experience. Berroya closed out the panel by adding that leading internet companies are stepping up to combat today’s challenges, and will continue to do their part.
I hope that folks stay safe, they continue to use the advantage of having technology as a means of accessing their businesses and connecting with their loved ones. … I hope we don’t forget the important role that technology plays, and the tremendous good it can be used for.Jon Berroya
For more information on what the internet industry is doing to help fight COVID-19, visit IA’s new COVID-19 Response website.