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FCC bites down on broadband ‘nutrition labels’- POLITICO

With help from Emily Birnbaum, John Hendel and Rebecca Kern

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— Healthy choices: The Federal Communications Commission will hold its first hearing today on broadband “nutrition labels,” giving prospective customers easy-to-digest info on costs and data speeds.

— Modern money: The head of the government’s Technology Modernization Fund says it’s staring down far more projects than it can possibly fund — and it needs Congress’ help. 

— Bullet dodged: Google, Amazon and Microsoft narrowly avoided an omnibus amendment that could’ve cut off their cloud contracts with the federal government.  

IT’S FRIDAY, MARCH 11. Welcome to Morning Tech! The world may still be falling apart, but at least baseball is coming back! We’ve just got to get to April 7…

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FCC DIGS IN ON BROADBAND ‘NUTRITION’ — Today the FCC will hold what the agency is saying will be the first in a series of public hearings on broadband “nutrition labels,” something consumer advocates have sought for more than a decade. Similar to federal food-labeling requirements, a broadband label requirement would force telecom providers to give prospective customers specifics about the speed, cost and other aspects of internet service before they sign up.

The FCC voted in late January to start the rulemaking process, and last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law (H.R. 3684) asks the commission to finalize rules for broadband labels by November.

— Take your places: FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and her colleagues will need to decide how much information internet service providers will be required to include on these labels, and in what format. That question has become another front for tensions between progressive tech advocates and the telecom industry.

Greg Guice, the government affairs director at progressive tech group Public Knowledge,plans to testify today that the information provided by ISPs on their broadband offerings is “inconsistent” and limits potential customers’ ability to understand whether a plan fits their specific needs or compare plans between providers. He wants the FCC to require clearly-displayed labels that give real-world examples of a plan’s speed of service, consistent definitions of “typical” speed, latency and packet-loss data and the up-front cost of broadband, even when bundled with other services.

On the other side is Diana Eisner, the head of policy and advocacy at telecom trade group USTelecom. While Eisner won’t argue in her testimony against the label requirements in general, she plans to say that providers already provide customers with “significant information.” And she’ll also argue that required labels should be “simple to read and not chock full of highly technical information that will only confuse consumers.”

TECHNOLOGY MODERNIZATION FUND NEEDS MORE FUNDS: Last year’s passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (H.R. 1319) transformed the General Services Administration’s Technology Modernization Fund from a backwater to a fast-growing effort juggling well over five times its previous budget. It announced its latest project — upgrading privacy protections and consumer-facing systems at the Selective Service and the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission — just this week.

Federal agencies always want more money from Congress. But Raylene Yung, the new head of the TMF, told MT in an interview Thursday that the extra $1 billion injected into the fund last year won’t be enough to manage the flood of requests it’s since received from federal agencies seeking to upgrade their IT systems. She said those proposals, taken together, will require nearly three times as much to execute. And with even the extra $250 million for the TMF included in the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376) stalled (likely for good), Yung said she’s working to convince Congress more money is needed.

— Scratching the surface: Before last year’s $1 billion surge in funding, the TMF was operating on one $175 million grant from Congress, maintained a “scrappy” team that hovered between three and four people, had reviewed only a few dozen agency proposals and had made just 11 investments.

But the TMF’s mandate has ballooned significantly over the past few months. Yung joined in September, following a relatively short stint at the nonprofit U.S. Digital Response (which she co-founded) and longer stays at Facebook and online payment company Stripe. The TMF’s staff has grown to between 15 and 20 people, and requests for funding and technical assistance have skyrocketed. Yung said they’ve received more than 130 proposals worth about $2.5 billion from more than 40 federal agencies.

“That was only from several months,” Yung said. Those proposals, she said, are only “scratching the surface” when it comes to the effort needed to modernize federal IT systems.

— Convincing Capitol Hill: With Build Back Better on death’s door, Yung said she’s providing regular updates to lawmakers about the TMF’s latest efforts and highlighting trends and patterns found in the requests received from agencies. Yung declined to say whether she believes there’s still a viable legislative vehicle for an additional infusion of TMF dollars this cycle.

— About that GAO report: Yung also sought to downplay recent findings from the Government Accountability Office that some TMF projects lack plans to recover project operating expenses, an expectation of the program. Yung said GAO’s extended investigation timelines means things have often changed by the time those reports are released, and said she’s interested in measuring the impact of projects beyond their financial benefits.

THE OTHER BATTLE OVER KIDS’ ONLINE SAFETY — Some of the biggest tech companies narrowly escaped a provision in this week’s omnibus spending bill that could have prevented them from providing cloud services to the government. That provision would likely have been a huge hit to their bottom lines, which rely substantially on federal partnerships.

— Amendment drops off: The version of the omnibus passed last year by the House included an amendment that would’ve barred federal agencies from using any cloud services that host child pornography — something Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all working to prevent but have failed to completely eradicate on their respective clouds. The Senate’s version of the omnibus spending bill released this week did not include the child pornography amendment. The author of the provision, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), told Emily he plans to continue fighting to include that language in future legislative vehicles.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” Stewart said, calling the amendment “such an obviously good thing to do.”

The tech companies raised concerns about the amendment in private conversations with lawmakers and staff, according to two tech industry lobbyists familiar with the Capitol Hill discussions who requested anonymity. The debate was kept quiet even as tech lobbyists publicly fought the EARN IT Act (S. 3538), legislation passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year that’s meant to reduce child sexual exploitation online by limiting platforms’ liability protections.

— What might’ve been: The amendment would’ve stipulated that “none of the funds made available” in the spending bill may be used to buy remote computing services unless the government determines that services do “not store or transmit images” of child pornography. That would’ve swept up Amazon and Microsoft — which both have billions of dollars in contracts with the federal government — as well as Google, which has a smaller cloud business.

— Cui bono? The two lobbyists argued the amendment would have benefitted one company in particular: Oracle, which does not have consumer-facing cloud services. Ken Glueck, Oracle’s executive vice president, told Emily he had “never heard of” the amendment but said it “seems perfectly reasonable.”

TWITTER TARGETS BELARUSIAN STATE MEDIA — Twitter said last night it’s de-amplifying and labeling the accounts of 15 Belarusian media outlets funded by Belarus’ government, as well as the accounts of two senior leaders at these companies. The move comes after Twitter started labeling Russian state-run media accounts last week.

Correction: Thursday’s edition of Morning Tech misattributed a quote from the Connected Commerce Council about the group’s Facebook ads targeting antitrust legislation. Rob Retzlaff, the group’s executive director, gave the statement.

One of our fellow newsletters, POLITICO’s The Recast, debuted its inaugural The Recast Power List this morning — a slate of 40 remarkable people shaking up power in Washington, the U.S. and beyond.

One name of note to Morning Tech readers: Timnit Gebru, a computer scientist and top researcher into the potential for some facial recognition tools to exhibit racial bias. Gebru was fired from Google after she asked her managers why they asked her to withdraw an academic paper detailing biases in AI technology. Gebru later founded the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute to analyze the effects of AI technology, particularly on Africans and the African diaspora in the U.S. You can see the full Recast Power List here.

Rina Pal-Goetzen is joining the Semiconductor Industry Association as director of global policy. … Sarah Al-Husseini is now Google’s head of government affairs and public policy for Saudi Arabia. … Alexis DeJarnette is a new public affairs officer at Axiom Space. She was previously communications director for Senate Commerce Republicans.

I thought we were friends: Amazon’s effort to hire and promote Democrats close to the Biden administration hasn’t panned out for the company, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Zuck’s eyes and ears: Wired profiles Joel Kaplan, the former Bush administration official who became Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s point man in Washington.

Palms down: Rolling Stone reports Colorado music venue Red Rocks Amphitheater has abandoned plans to employ Amazon’s palm-scanning technology after artists protested.

Going, going, Google: The tech platform announced it’s pulling “the vast majority” of its services from Russia, including new cloud sign-ups, ads on its properties and networks, payment services and YouTube monetization features.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), Brendan Bordelon ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Rebecca Kern ([email protected]) and Leah Nylen ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

Have a great day!



FCC bites down on broadband ‘nutrition labels’- POLITICO Source link FCC bites down on broadband ‘nutrition labels’- POLITICO

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