Sunday, September 25, 2022
Published 3 Years Ago on Wednesday, Dec 11 2019 By Inside Telecom Staff
By JANIE HAR Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tired of San Francisco streets being
used as a testing ground for the latest delivery technology and transportation
apps, city leaders are now requiring businesses to get permits before trying
out new high-tech ideas in public.
Supporters of the legislation, which the Board of
Supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday, say it is the first of its kind in
the U.S. They say it’s long overdue in a city that’s a hub for major tech
companies but is more accustomed to reacting to the sudden arrival of new
technology — like hundreds of dockless electric scooters that appeared
overnight last year.
The e-scooter trend has led to complaints from people in
cities across the country.
The tech industry has showered San Francisco with
high-paying jobs and cemented its reputation as a place for big ideas, but the
success of home-grown companies Airbnb, Lyft and Uber has vexed some residents
as streets have become more congested and the housing shortage has worsened.
“I support innovation and technology, but our residents
are not guinea pigs, and our public infrastructure is not a free-for-all,”
said Norman Yee, president of the Board of Supervisors who introduced the
The Office of Emerging Technology will serve as a one-stop
shop for entrepreneurs who want to test their products in San Francisco’s
public space. Companies will not be allowed to experiment unless the office
declares the tech in question a “net public good.”
It’s not clear how criteria will be used to evaluate
proposals, but companies that share data, ensure public safety and privacy when
testing, and promote job creation would fare better than those that don’t.
The office will have oversight over new technology launched
on, above or below city property or on public right-of-ways, but the
legislation does not spell out all the possible technologies the office would
Yee said hoverboards, delivery drones and data-gathering
devices on sidewalks or other public infrastructure would be subject to
regulation. He’s even heard of a business that wants to promote low-tech pogo
sticks as transportation. The concept makes him shudder.
“Can you imagine?” Yee said. “Let’s put a
stop to that before they drop 10,000 pogo sticks into the city.”
Local officials have a duty to protect public infrastructure
and to send the message that public space is “not the Wild West” for
anyone with coding skills and a neat idea, said Aaron Klein, a fellow in
economic studies at the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank.
“On the other hand, too much local control and too many
hoops to jump through can be easily manipulated by vested interests to fight
advancement,” he said.
San Francisco political strategist Jon Golinger says it’s
time that City Hall took control after nearly a decade of political leaders
allowing businesses free rein. The lenience made some people wealthy but didn’t
provide enough public good to a city with skyrocketing housing prices, growing
homelessness and widening income inequality.
“It had a detrimental and lasting effect on the quality
of life and the health of our city,” he said.
For instance, San Francisco did not start regulating Airbnb
until 2014, years after the company started advertising short-term rentals
despite a city law that prohibited such stays. Officials also are tangling with
Uber and Lyft over congestion, user data and driver pay, among other issues.
Transportation companies like those ride-hailing services
are overseen by the state so could not be regulated by the city office, says
Erica Maybaum, an aide to Yee. It also would not regulate a service like Airbnb
because that involves a private platform and private properties, she said.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, founded by David
Packard of Hewlett-Packard, objects to the permitting requirement, saying it
would stifle innovation and burden business.
But the legislation has the backing of sf.citi, a tech
association founded by angel investor Ron Conway, who’s a longtime nemesis of
advocates of stricter regulation.
“We believe that the supervisor’s approach of working
with — rather than against — industry to build legislation is the kind of
leadership this city needs to be successful,” said Jennifer Stojkovic,
sf.citi’s executive director.
Vikrum Aiyer, vice president of public policy at food
delivery service Postmates and a member of the work group that crafted the
legislation, said at a public hearing last month that the days of
public-private head-butting are over.
“This is an era in which government needs to build
empathy for technology, and technology companies must build more empathy for
government,” he said.
Yee came up with the idea for regulation nearly two years
ago, after he successfully passed legislation requiring companies to get
permits to test delivery robots. The idea gained more urgency after hundreds of
dockless scooters appeared on city sidewalks in 2018, providing a fun ride for
some but irritation for others forced to weave around them.
The city moved to ban the scooters until
officials could regulate them.
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