With help from Leah Nylen, John Hendel and Cristiano Lima
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— Smooth sailing: FTC nominee Lina Khan’s warm reception signaled her confirmation could move forward quickly.
— Long road ahead for Schumer’s plan: The Endless Frontier Act was finally introduced, and now the real work begins. We’ve got a rundown of the likely points of friction to expect around the legislation.
— At the FCC’s open meeting: The FCC today will wade into contentious territory as it considers a proposal mandating that broadcasters disclose programming from a foreign government.
IT’S THURSDAY, AND IT’S TIME FOR MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Emily Birnbaum. Do you all think that the rise of oat milk is just a fad or is it here to stay?
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NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S FTC — Khan got a friendly reception from the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, an indication her confirmation may move forward swiftly. After glowing introductions by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Khan said that “everything needs to be on the table” as the agency tackles tech giants like Facebook and Apple. She didn’t shy away from criticizing some of her predecessors, saying Obama-era regulators “missed opportunities” to rein in the major online platforms and pledged to be “much more vigilant” on tech acquisitions going forward.
— GOP backing? Khan’s pledges to be tough on the social media companies and her convergence with Justice Clarence Thomas’ views on tech regulation earned plaudits from progressives and populist conservatives alike, and even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he looked forward to working with Khan on issues around transparency in content moderation. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) each raised some concerns about her experience (or supposed lack thereof), but none of the panel’s Republicans came out forcefully against her nomination.
— App Stores: Hours before Google and Apple testified about their smartphone app stores, Khan said she agreed that the two companies’ dominance is “a significant issue.” Some of Apple and Google’s “terms and conditions really lack any type of beneficial justification. In those cases, we need to be especially skeptical,” she said.
— Children’s safety a focus: Khan said existing kids’ privacy laws should be “the floor, not the ceiling” for children’s online protections, remarks that will be welcome news to the bipartisan cast of lawmakers looking to beef up those standards. Khan also said the FTC needs to be “especially vigilant” in investigating possible violations regarding educational technology, which has become a crucial part of learning for kids nationwide during the Covid-19 pandemic.
FUTURE OF ENDLESS FRONTIER ACT — Now that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Endless Frontier Act has finally been introduced, the real work begins. I know what you’re thinking: “Hasn’t every congressional aide and lobbyist in the universe spent the last several months nonstop working on this thing? What more could there be to do?” Well, dear reader, here’s a brief rundown of what still needs to be worked out, according to aides and lobbyists:
— The cost: Anticipate some attempts to haggle the price down. This bill would funnel $100 billion into the National Science Foundation. That’s a lot of money, particularly for a Senate filled with Republicans and moderate Democrats who are getting spending fatigue. Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, last week warned against “simply throwing money at the problem” without sufficient guardrails.
— Redundancies: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have warned that the legislation could create a wasteful rivalry between the Energy Department and the NSF, both of which research emerging technologies. Schumer wants all Democrats and 10 Republicans to get behind this bill, so he’ll have to pay close attention to what Manchin and other wild cards want.
— Supply chain program: The legislation would set up a supply chain resilience program through the Commerce Department that assesses how to keep supply chains within the U.S. and allied countries. Industry representatives, particularly tech companies, have expressed trepidation behind the scenes, saying they don’t want to be punished for needing to rely on Chinese suppliers.
— Next steps: We’re hearing the Senate Commerce markup of this legislation, slated for next week, is going to be a long one incorporating a variety of amendments.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will push for the legislation to include funding for the CHIPS for America Act, which was signed into law as part of the NDAA and would funnel resources into U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, a Cornyn aide told MT.
Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told MT he hopes the Endless Frontier Act could pass as an amendment to the National Science Foundation budget reauthorization. Then, the House and Senate will conference their versions. Phew!
— The boost that’s coming: “This will be a transformational bill in increasing science and technology investment in an order of magnitude we haven’t seen since the 1960s and the Cold War,” Khanna said. The bill will fund major tech companies’ efforts to partner with research universities or engage in research around technology areas including AI, quantum computing and clean technology.
TODAY: FCC WADES INTO BROADCAST CONTENTIOUSNESS — In acting FCC chief Jessica Rosenworcel’s third meeting at the helm, commissioners will juggle a sticky issue around a proposal mandating that broadcasters disclose programming sponsored by a foreign government. The National Association of Broadcasters recoiled at Rosenworcel’s initial draft, accusing the FCC of expanding its regulatory snare over the industry and noting that foreign governments have their hands in many types of content beyond broadcast.
— Broadcasters complain that the government would put the burden on them to figure out whether they’re dealing with a foreign government as part of any lease agreement. “The FCC should not simply saddle broadcasters with this needless obligation — or rather, multiple needless obligations — because it can regulate broadcasters but not social media companies,” NAB’s top lawyer wrote in a blog post this week, suggesting the agency may want to revisit many aspects of its draft.
— MT will be watching to see how commissioners may have finessed the draft language and how much this may satisfy broadcaster concerns.
— Also on the agenda: An FCC item likely meriting less drama but garnering attention: a proposal eyeing a future in which people can send text messages to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline dialing short-code of 988. Mental health organizations have been quick to laud the idea, saying such texting is now “a basic expectation of the general public.” The meeting’s full agenda also includes votes on commercial space launches and 911 reliability.
MEANWHILE, IN BIPARTISANSHIP — House Energy and Commerce lawmakers were unusually aligned during a Wednesday telecom subcommittee hearing on wireless security about the need to fund certain programs created last year aimed at boosting 5G open radio access technology (a software-focused alternative to hardware sold by Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei). One figure floating around is $3 billion, and MT is watching for potential pushes from this corner of Capitol Hill. The White House and Japan’s government, meanwhile, explicitly agreed to boost this form of 5G network-building as part of a Friday meeting.
APP STORES NEED REGULATION, DEVELOPERS SAY — At Wednesday’s app store hearing, major app developers urged senators to pursue legislation specific to mobile app stores controlled by Apple and Google. “If we wait for sweeping legislation, or legislation that may need to be held up in the courts, to understand what the impact is to the mobile ecosystem, there could be more irreparable harm to innovation,” Kirsten Daru, Tile’s top lawyer, told the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel. Google’s Wilson White, meanwhile, said that app store legislation could “damage the foundation that has allowed the Android ecosystem to work so well.”
— Rides vs. dates: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) pressed Google and Apple to explain how they classify which apps offer “digital services” that must pay their hefty 30 percent commission. Apple’s Kyle Andeer said ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft offer a physical good since they connect users to transportation services, but a dating app like Match’s Tinder facilitates digital interactions. Lee remained unpersuaded. “I’m not grasping the differentiation point between meeting a stranger for transportation and meeting a stranger to go to dinner,” he said.
TECH AGENDA FOR CIVIL RIGHTS: Color of Change, the civil rights group that Democrats often turn to for policy advice, today will introduce a set of tech accountability priorities for 2021. The organization is calling for sweeping antitrust reform, a moratorium on facial recognition technology, a federal privacy law that requires audits for algorithmic bias, and increased authority for the FTC and FEC to regulate digital ads, according to an early copy provided to MT.
Nicole Wong, former deputy U.S. chief technology officer, has joined the board of the Filecoin Foundation. Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, has joined the board of the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web. … Dish Network will partner with Amazon Web Services on the launch of its virtualized 5G open RAN network coming later this year.
Behind the scenes: Google’s Ethical AI team has faced years of turmoil over how the company handles allegations of harassment and racism, Bloomberg reports.
Historical perspective: The Washington Post has a new graphics feature exploring the acquisitions that made Big Tech so big.
Some recognition please: Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and 18 other senators today introduced legislation to prevent U.S. government and law enforcement agencies from buying location data without a warrant.
Chance to restart: Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today will introduce the RESTART Act, legislation that would provide funding to small and medium-sized businesses for mid-career STEM internships.
No thank you: Seven Republican lawmakers are swearing off Big Tech money, The New York Times reports.
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