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What Tech Can Expect Under a Trump Presidency

President-elect Donald Trump has cultivated a reputation for doing the unexpected. What's more, the real estate mogul has not spoken at length about his technology or communications policies.

Still, based on what Trump has said and on his adviser picks, it's possible to garner some ideas about what tech and communications issues could be his focus. Below is a list of five big issues that bear watching, as selected by S&P Global Market Intelligence's editorial staff.

Lowering corporate taxes

Prior to the election, Trump called for corporate taxes to be lowered to 15%, down from the current stated rate of 35%. Trump's plan also includes "a 10% tax on repatriation, instantly bringing trillions of dollars back into the U.S. economy now parked overseas," according to the Trump website.

By comparison, House Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have pushed a plan that would lower the corporate tax rate to 20% and enact a deemed repatriation of currently deferred foreign profits at a tax rate of 8.75% for cash and cash-equivalent profits and 3.5% on other profits.

Of course, tech companies like Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc., Netflix Inc. and Facebook Inc. are among the U.S. companies that have stored huge piles of cash overseas.

S&P Global Market Intelligence data from August 2016 showed that the five aforementioned companies had accumulated more than $376 billion of combined cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities outside of the borders of the U.S., with Apple and Microsoft leading the pack.

If the corporate tax rate is in fact lowered, many analysts expect companies to repatriate their overseas cash and use it to fund share repurchases, dividends and perhaps M&A.

Trump reportedly discussed the matter at a meeting with tech leaders in December 2016.

Changes to H-1B visas

In the first days and weeks after Trump was elected president, there was a lot of concern that he might seek to eliminate or curtail the H-1B visa program, which admits 65,000 skilled foreign workers and another 20,000 graduate student workers each year. Tech companies like Apple and Google Inc. rely on the H-1B visa program to recruit highly skilled workers from overseas.

Republicans are somewhat divided over the program. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have both supported increasing the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and uncapping the U.S. advanced degree exemption.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Trump's pick for U.S. Attorney General, has been a long-time critic of the skilled-worker program, saying it "blatantly allows for the firing of American workers with the intent of replacing them with imported workers."

Earlier in 2016, Sessions led a Senate hearing that included tearful testimony from a former Walt Disney Co. IT engineer who said he'd been forced to train a temporary foreign worker to do his job and then subsequently fired.

"The sad reality is that – not only is there not a shortage of exceptionally qualified U.S. workers – but across the country thousands of U.S. workers are being replaced by foreign labor," Sessions said at the hearing.

On the other hand, Andy Puzder, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Labor, has been more supportive of the program. In a 2015 editorial for The Wall Street Journal, Puzder pointed to data showing that temporary foreign workers -- skilled and less skilled -- boost U.S. employment. "Every Republican who aspires to the presidency should acknowledge that immigrants of all skill sets can benefit the economy," Puzder wrote.

A path forward for driverless cars

In tech companies' quest to get self-driving cars onto public roads, there has been one consistent obstacle: a patchwork of state laws governing how and where the vehicles can be tested.

But with Trump's pick for transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, and his enlistment of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on a jobs-focused advisory panel, there's some evidence that the new administration could take a more hands-off approach to regulation of the industry.

"It is clear that the Trump cabal is aiming to either deregulate or make it easier to play in already-regulated industries," Kara Swisher of Recode wrote, joking that his administration might say "So a self-driving car runs a red light, big whoop!"

Chao hasn't addressed self-driving cars directly but the former Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush and deputy Transportation Secretary under President George H.W. Bush indicates that she could try a new approach when working with tech companies and carmakers.

In a November 2015 speech at the American Action Forum, Chao praised so-called gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft, which have begun developing autonomous vehicles.

"At a minimum, government policies must not stifle the innovation that has made this sector such an explosive driver of job growth and opportunity," Chao said.

A Trumped-up FCC

As soon as Trump steps into office, Republicans will have a 2-1 majority at the FCC, which could allow the commission to immediately begin work on rolling back recent regulations. But the real question ahead of the FCC is who will serve as its next chairman.

Ultimately, it seems as though the decision will come down to whether Trump simply wants a change of captains at the commission, or whether he wants to set fire to the whole ship.

If it's the former, many industry observers believe Trump could appoint Ajit Pai, the longest-serving of the two current Republican FCC commissioners, as the next chairman. Pai is a long-time Washington insider, having worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and served as a staffer on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee prior to being appointed to the FCC.

Pai's views are well known: he believes the FCC should only act within the bounds set by Congress; when it comes to regulations, he believes less is generally more; and he believes the government should make it easier for private companies to deliver universal broadband.

If Trump wants bigger changes, though, he could appoint an outsider to the FCC. Mark Jamison, director of the University of Florida Public Utility Research Center and a member Trump's agency landing team for the FCC, previously wrote an editorial asking, "Do we really need the FCC?"

His ultimate conclusion: "No, but yes."

The inclusion of Jamison on the landing team could signal that Trump is envisioning a significantly scaled-back FCC -- an agency that would not enforce net neutrality protections, pursue zero-rating investigations, set privacy rules for broadband service providers or act as a "backstop" in private negotiations between programmers and pay TV providers.

Either way, we're likely in for a very different FCC going forward than we've known for the past three years.

Rebuilding bridges with Silicon Valley

Antitrust law and online privacy could both look much different under the next administration, especially given Trump's reported selection of former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright as an antitrust adviser.

Wright, a Republican who served on the FTC between 2013 and 2015, has been scrutinized for his ties to Google. While serving as a law professor at George Mason University, he reportedly received research funding from the search-engine giant.

Some of his research has supported Google's contention that favoring its own search-engine results over those of its rivals and barring advertisers from hosting ads on competing platforms does not violate antitrust laws.

Wright has also previously suggested that fears over data collection were overblown.

"What I saw during my time at the FTC is what appears to be a generalized apprehension about the collection and use of data -- whether or not the data is actually personally identifiable or sensitive," he said in 2015. "Any sensible approach to regulating the collection and use of data will take into account the risk of abuses that will harm consumers. But those risks must be weighed with as much precision as possible, as is the case with potential consumer benefits, in order to guide sensible policy for data collection and use."