With help from John Hendel, Alexandra S. Levine and Steven Overly
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— Dawn of the real antitrust fight: It has taken long, long, long into the night and early morning, and it’s still not over as I write this, but House Judiciary’s big tech antitrust package is slowly crawling its way through the committee. Then its challenges will just be starting.
— Broadband blow: The latest infrastructure proposal from a bipartisan group of senators would cut $20 billion in new spending from broadband funding.
— Money moves: House appropriators today will weigh funding bumps to key agencies — and there’s a partisan battle brewing.
HAPPY THURSDAY! MORNING TECH IS STILL AWAKE, and has been since the committee markup started about 20 hours ago. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. I’d understand if your eyes need a rest, but I hope you’ll take some time out of your busy morning to read. (Don’t forget to send positive vibes to Leah, Cristiano and Emily, who have been covering this markup so well. If you also stayed up, let me know and I’ll give you a shout-out in tomorrow’s newsletter!)
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WHO TO WATCH ON ANTITRUST — After the committee finishes a marathon markup that started Wednesday morning, broke just after 5 a.m. today and is scheduled to resume at 11 a.m., the time is coming for eyes to turn to a handful of people who could determine the antitrust bills’ fate:
— Speaker Nancy Pelosi: She’s the gatekeeper of the House floor, obviously, but as a California Democrat she is also part of a state delegation that showed plenty of resistance Wednesday to these proposals targeting Silicon Valley. She’s been lobbied by moderate Democrats and Apple CEO Tim Cook to slow down the legislative process, although The New York Times said she pushed back on Cook and pressed him for specific policy objections. (Pelosi also refused to even meet with Facebook for months on end last year, Emily has reported.)
— President Joe Biden: He hasn’t publicly weighed in on the package and doesn’t have a significant record on antitrust, though his appointment of Lina Khan as FTC chair elated her fellow progressives. “We hope the legislative process continues to move forward on these bipartisan proposals,” a White House official said in a statement.
— Former President Donald Trump: His endorsement or condemnation of the bills could make or break its appeal to congressional Republicans, and the package has split some of his staunchest supporters. But Trump, exiled from major social media platforms, hasn’t yet commented on it.
— Does it have the votes? Unclear. These bills have divided both Republicans and Democrats in the House, a trend that will likely carry over into Senate deliberations, where the 60-vote threshold to survive a filibuster could present a major challenge.
One bill, at least, has a good chance of becoming law: H.R. 3843 (117), which would increase merger filing fees, already passed the Senate this month as part of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. Another bill, H.R. 3460 (117), which would allow state attorneys general to decide where their antitrust cases are heard, has companion legislation in the Senate and cleared Wednesday’s markup relatively quickly.
The rest of the bills don’t have Senate counterparts yet, although Senate antitrust Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has expressed interest in H.R. 3816 (117), which would prevent companies from giving their products exclusive advantages, and H.R. 3826 (117), which would block tech giants from acquiring their rivals. And Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced in the last Congress a bill similar to the House’s data portability bill, H.R. 3849 (117).
A SPECIAL DEAL FOR MICROSOFT? — While debating the data portability bill, Republican lawmakers seized on the idea that one of the biggest tech companies won’t be fazed by it.
Much of the antitrust package targets Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, thanks to definitions that would apply stricter rules to companies meeting certain criteria. Those include a market value of at least $600 billion, something only 10 corporations in the world can claim, plus other standards that whittle the field further. (See Leah’s primer on the issue.) And that has created uncertainty about whether the new restrictions would actually apply to Microsoft, the second-most valuable U.S. company, which was not a target of House Judiciary’s 16-month antitrust probe.
“That’s what we have here: Bills that supposedly go after Big Tech, being written by Big Tech,” ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. (To hammer that point home, the committee tweeted a photo of Judiciary antitrust Chair David Cicilline‘s face overlaid with Microsoft’s logo.)
But Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she didn’t get all the commotion, noting that Microsoft, among other things, meets that minimum market cap threshold. “I’m confused about why everyone is assuming that Microsoft is not covered,” she said.
— So is Microsoft covered? Ultimately, it will be up to enforcement agencies to determine which companies are liable, Cicilline conceded, though the Rhode Island Democrat added that the criteria were not written with the intent to exempt particular companies.
The dust-up is a reminder that the major tech companies have divergent interests on enforcement questions despite often doing lucrative deals with each other. Microsoft has dumped all over Apple’s App Store policies; Apple has clashed with Google and Facebook on privacy; and Google encouraged lawmakers in February to ask Microsoft some pointed questions about cyber breaches.
FEELING THE BROADBAND BLUES — Broadband funding in the latest infrastructure proposal could be whittled down to $45 billion after a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement with the White House on Wednesday for a $559 billion infrastructure deal, our Sam Mintz reports. Senators will brief Biden on the framework today.
TODAY: HOUSE APPROPRIATORS VOTE ON FUNDING BUMPS FOR FCC, FTC — This morning House appropriators will hold a subcommittee vote on proposed fiscal 2022 funding increases for the FCC and FTC, both along the lines of what the White House had requested. The FCC would be given $388 million under the panel Democrats’ proposal (scoring a $14 million bump over the 2021 enacted level) and the FTC $390 million (a bump of $39 million).
— Appetite for testimony: This appropriations subcommittee typically invites the heads of these two agencies to testify on their requests, appearances which often precede the release of the lawmakers’ funding plans. Those hearings are still likely to happen, even following today’s markup; subcommittee Chair Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told John on Wednesday that he expects the panel will get to them “after we appropriate and the Senate sits on it.” (The White House, for what it’s worth, submitted its full budget request only last month).
— And a bump for the TMF: House Democrats also included $50 million for the Technology Modernization Fund, a pot of money that federal agencies can tap to fix up their IT. Despite being only a tenth of what Biden requested, the TMF allocation is double what it typically gets — and that’s a positive sign, said Matthew Cornelius, executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation and a former OMB staffer who helped stand up the fund. “They could have zeroed it out,” he told MT. “They could have just said, ‘You got a billion in the reconciliation package, you don’t need anything else from us.’”
— What about the GOP? The top Republican on Quigley’s subcommittee, Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, called the Democratic spending plans “unacceptable,” adding that “cuts to national security in order to justify this out-of-control spending is a threat to all Americans.”
Asked about expectations for today’s vote, Quigley remarked, “If you have low expectations, you’ll never be disappointed.” Full committee markup on the funding bill is scheduled for Tuesday.
WHILE WE’RE TALKING ABOUT MONEY — Senate Commerce ranking member Roger Wicker wants to know how hundreds of billions in broadband funding is being doled out during the pandemic. The Mississippi Republican wrote on Wednesday to three key departments — Education, Agriculture and Treasury — that are overseeing money for various connectivity efforts.
Wicker asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for an accounting of funds — such as the FCC’s $7.1 billion pot to boost student connectivity — that have gone to state and local educational agencies, in order to avoid duplicative spending. He also wanted an update from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the $735 million for the Broadband ReConnect program to boost rural connectivity and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the $510 billion her department is in charge of distributing to state and local governments, which can then use it for broadband infrastructure.
RAIMONDO’S THOUGHTS ON PRIVACY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC — Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo caught MT’s attention on Wednesday with these comments: “The EU, in passing their privacy law … is a little bit ahead of us, because Congress hasn’t passed a privacy law. Having said that, just because we haven’t passed a federal privacy law doesn’t mean that we don’t protect privacy — and just as well.” (Do you concur or agree to disagree? Take this poll, and drop me a line if you have more thoughts.)
Her comments come on the heels of her closely watched trip to Brussels with Biden, where their meetings with EU leaders yielded little progress on negotiations over a replacement to the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield.
— A warning: Speaking at the Coalition of Service Industries’ Global Services Summit, Raimondo cautioned against inaction: If the EU and U.S., “together, don’t write the rules of the road, if you will, with respect to technology, then other countries that don’t share our values, particularly China, will write the rules of the road.”
— Next up: Watch for U.S.-EU privacy tensions to come up this morning during a conversation between Raimondo and European Commission executive vice president Margrethe Vestager on the future of AI policy — an area where the two governments have diverged but will need to work together if they hope to outcompete China.
Jack Markell has been nominated to be Biden’s ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He was the governor of Delaware and a former SVP of Comcast and Nextel Communications. … Stacey Brandenburg has been nominated to be a trustee of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Fund. She is a lawyer focused on privacy and technology issues and an FTC alum. … Stephanie Brewer was reelected as chair of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program’s advisory board, and Brad Baumann was elected as vice chair. Ryan Coppola joins the board, and David Sams and Joel Hightower are stepping down.
The Public Interest Technology Lab is being launched at Harvard Kennedy School. It will be led by former FTC CTO Latanya Sweeney. … Microsoft is joining the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center as a founding member. … Multiverse and Verizon are partnering to create an apprenticeship program focused on diversity in tech.
The latest on K Street, via POLITICO Influence: Former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who lost reelection last fall, has joined the board of Michael Best Strategies, the lobbying firm run by former RNC Chair and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Tracking disinfo: “How China Spreads Its Propaganda Version of Life in Xinjiang,” a NYT-ProPublica collab.
Gig choice: Uber and Lyft drivers are turning to more gig-friendly options, WSJ reports.
Opposites attract: Twitter wanted to build ethical AI. To do so, it turned to tech critics, Protocol reports.
Pivot to streaming: Comcast’s CEO wants to turn the cable titan into a streaming giant, via WSJ.
In memoriam: “John McAfee, Software Pioneer Turned Fugitive, Dies in Spanish Prison,” via NYT.
That’s interesting: House Energy and Commerce’s communications and technology subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday on “A Safe Wireless Future: Securing our Networks and Supply Chains.” Lawmakers will consider various bills, including a new one that would create an FCC 6G task force.
Snap ‘em up: “Amazon and Other Tech Giants Race to Buy Up Renewable Energy,” via WSJ.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Cristiano Lima ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
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