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— Hands across the Atlantic: Collaboration between U.S. and European regulators on digital competition issues is going strong, as both sides go after Silicon Valley’s biggest giants.
— Inside Facebook: Haven’t read “An Ugly Truth” yet? MT has you covered on the new book about Mark Zuckerberg’s social media juggernaut.
— Rural efforts: The House Agriculture Committee will mark up a $43 billion bill to boost rural connectivity. It’s the latest effort to expand broadband access, as Senate negotiators draft their own provisions.
WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY! MORNING TECH IS HALFWAY THERE. I’m your host, Benjamin Din. Did you hear that Quibi — the defunct short-form streaming platform — picked up eight Emmy nominations? I’ll admit I was a little sad to see it go, since Jeff Katzenberg and Meg Whitman seemed so excited about the project when I interviewed them a few years ago.
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BREAKING OVERNIGHT: SENATE DEMOCRATS UNVEIL BUDGET PROPOSAL — Senate Democrats announced a $3.5 trillion topline number for their partisan budget reconciliation measure, which will contain the human infrastructure priorities that Republicans managed to keep out of the bipartisan infrastructure framework. The announcement didn’t include any details related to what tech and telecom provisions may be in the mix.
TRANSATLANTIC INROADS ON ANTITRUST — They don’t always see eye to eye on issues like taxes and privacy, but the U.S. and Europe’s ongoing dialogue on digital competition has taken on new significance as both sides of the Atlantic ramp up their antitrust pressure on Silicon Valley.
— From Brussels to the Hill: Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the House Judiciary antitrust panel and is leading the effort on the bipartisan antitrust package, met Tuesday with Andreas Schwab — the German member of the European Parliament who is handling the EU’s digital competition bill — as part of a joint parliamentary session hosted by the European Parliament’s Washington office.
Back in June, the U.S. National Security Council criticized Schwab for being too “protectionist” in defining the scope of the EU’s digital competition bill. The MEP had proposed targeting only the five largest U.S. tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. That approach, however, is not that far off from what Cicilline’s House bills do. Before Tuesday’s meeting, Schwab told our colleagues in Europe that both the EU and the U.S. are facing “similar questions.”
— The U.K. weighs in too: Andrea Coscelli, who heads the U.K.’s competition authority, said Tuesday on a panel of the country’s digital regulators that his agency is in constant contact with the FTC and the DOJ on antitrust matters. “We have quite a number of high-profile cases we’re doing together,” he said. And in April, Coscelli’s agency launched a special unit dedicated to reining in the tech giants — although its powers are not yet fully defined.
“If the U.S. agencies manage to achieve lasting change in some of the practices we’re worried about, it’s a massive bonus for us and U.K. consumers, because we then don’t need to act directly,” he said. “So it’s partially working together when it’s appropriate and partially following closely what’s happening in Washington.”
— Tech giants send their envoys: Meanwhile, industry leaders from the U.S. also connected with EU officials on Tuesday. Google’s Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs, met with EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders to talk about data protection, AI and hate speech, while Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was expected to chat with European Commission executive vice president Margrethe Vestager.
EXAMINING ‘AN UGLY TRUTH’ — New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang’s much-publicized book “An Ugly Truth” hit stores Tuesday, and its details on Facebook’s rise to dominance contain plenty of grist for lawmakers already eager for a tech crackdown. MT is here to catch you up on some of the tidbits you may hear at the virtual water cooler:
— Sandberg out of the loop: COO Sheryl Sandberg told Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in May 2017 that Facebook believed it had identified “the vast majority” of Russian election interference, the book says, and that the company was “wrapping this up.” But in fact, the team led by Alex Stamos, then Facebook’s chief security officer, “suspected there was much more to be uncovered and were still digging into the Russian activity.”
Stamos, also at the meeting, was concerned that Sandberg “wasn’t being briefed on the real-time operations of his team,” Frenkel and Kang write, and that she had even told Warner, inaccurately, that Facebook considered the investigation complete. (A Facebook spokesperson denied to MT that Sandberg said such a thing; instead, the company says Sandberg told Warner that Facebook simply hadn’t seen evidence of Russian ads.)
— Joel Kaplan’s not going anywhere: The company’s top Republican lobbyist, who was behind some of Facebook’s most controversial decisions, remains close to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, although he plans to lie low during the Biden administration. “Joel will go when Joel is ready to go. Mark trusts very few people on policy, and Joel is in the center of that circle of truth,” a policy team member told the reporters.
— Going easy on Trump: Then-President Donald Trump infamously declared on social media in May 2020, as protests against racism and police brutality swept the country, that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” And when Twitter responded by slapping a warning label on his tweet, Trump phoned Zuckerberg to make sure his Facebook account would be safe.
Zuckerberg expressed his disappointment with the president’s rhetoric, but he “mainly listened while Trump did his usual talking in circles,” a Facebook employee briefed on the call told the two reporters. “He did the bare minimum so that Facebook wouldn’t remove it.” Zuckerberg assured Trump no action would be taken against him, a decision that stirred outrage among Facebook’s staff. (The spokesperson told MT the post stayed up only because it didn’t violate Facebook policies.)
— The Vanita Gupta connection: Before she became President Joe Biden’s associate attorney general, Gupta led the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. In July 2020, Zuckerberg expressed concerns to her over polarization, disinformation and the impact of Trump’s actions on the platform. “I’m really afraid for our democracy,” he said on a call, adding that Trump’s posts were “pushing authoritarianism.” “He seemed, for the first time, actually personally and philosophically disturbed,” Gupta told the reporters.
— That Pelosi video: If you haven’t read the Times’ excerpt on Zuckerberg deciding to keep up a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, you should.
It was clear from the book’s title that it wouldn’t offer a flattering portrayal of Facebook, which was quick to fire back. The book “is not only a rehash of history but relies on anecdotes supplied by mostly unnamed critics,” spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement. “The authors purposefully left out the perspective of the top executives we made available.” (In the prologue, the reporters wrote that neither Zuckerberg nor Sandberg was willing to participate.)
HOUSE AG MARKS UP RURAL BROADBAND BILL — The bill coming before the committee today, H.R. 4374 (117), would significantly boost the budgets of USDA rural broadband programs, as well as offer assistance to municipalities and smaller internet service providers to improve data quality in broadband mapping efforts.
The bill is headed to a markup less than a week after Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) introduced it on Friday. The price tag, spread over eight years, is significantly higher than the proposal House Ag Republicans introduced in May, H.R. 3369 (117), which would authorize $7 billion over two years. A GOP committee staffer emphasized to MT that both bills contain many of the same legislative priorities, which they said indicates a bipartisan effort.
— Lawmakers on the committee have been pushing for the Agriculture Department to have a more prominent role in addressing rural gaps in broadband coverage.
— The main event: Most broadband watchers are still waiting to see what senators will ultimately settle on as part of their $65 billion bipartisan framework for broadband investments. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), one of the key negotiators on the framework, is among those pushing for $40 billion of this pot to be distributed to the states, with conditions to ensure funding flows to unserved areas first, rather than disbursed by federal agencies like the Commerce Department or the FCC. “We think this will get the money out faster,” King said during a recent event.
Under the bipartisan plan, a cut of the $65 billion — though probably less than the $43 billion today’s bill calls for — would flow to the USDA’s rural broadband programs.
SO FCC, ABOUT THAT COMPETITION ORDER — FCC acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel expressed general support Tuesday for the items in Biden’s big competition executive order, but as the commission still lacks a Democratic majority, she declined to say when the agency might act on it. Biden’s requests for the FCC include reinstating net neutrality rules, helping ensure apartment dwellers have a choice of internet providers and imposing broadband pricing transparency — all ideas she endorsed during a press call after Tuesday’s meeting. She noted that a “full dais” (i.e., a Democratic majority, which will require Biden to nominate someone) could yield more options on tackling issues like net neutrality.
Asked whether the White House consulted the FCC in drafting the order, Rosenworcel acknowledged that her agency has “informal conversations with lots of folks in Washington on Capitol Hill and in the administration,” she told John during the call. “When they ask questions about existing FCC rules and policies, we are always quick to answer them and explain why things are the way they are. There’s no difference here.”
The FCC, of course, is an independent agency not subject to directives from the White House. Ex-FCC general counsel Tom Johnson, a Republican, called Biden’s order “much more aggressive” than Trump’s 2020 order seeking an FCC crackdown on social media (which itself raised eyebrows at the time) because Trump’s took the form of a Commerce Department petition. Such a petition would be “the right approach” for Biden, too, “rather than going directly to the FCC,” GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr told reporters.
Biden has nominated Alan Estevez to lead the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. He is an executive at Deloitte Consulting and worked at the Defense Department for more than 40 years. He would take over at a time of heightened U.S.-China tech tensions.
Lindsay Gorman has joined the White House as senior adviser for technology strategy. She is a Warner alum. … J.D. Harrison is joining Instacart as policy comms director. He was previously executive director for comms and strategy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. … Ian Plunkett is leaving Twitter as head of global policy comms to build out a new global policy comms team at Coinbase.
Broderick Johnson is joining Comcast as EVP for public policy and head of the telecom giant’s push for equity in broadband access. He is a Clinton White House, Obama White House, Hill and AT&T alum who joins from Covington & Burling. … Bill Price joins LightBox as VP of government solutions. He was most recently at the Georgia Technology Authority, where he developed Georgia’s granular broadband map, and will focus on increasing digital equity through better broadband mapping.
From our friends at POLITICO Influence: Danielle Burr, Uber’s head of federal affairs, is stepping down from her role and leaving the company. She previously worked in House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office. … Jessica Straus and Alison Minea have been promoted to VP at Dish Network. Straus was previously a director of government affairs and Minea was senior counsel and director of regulatory affairs.
Tale of two Washingtons: While lawmakers in Washington have stalled on privacy, Washington state has become the center of the tech privacy fight, Alex reports.
JEDI mind tricks: “G.O.P. Lawmakers Question Amazon’s Connections on Pentagon Contract,” NYT reports.
Drama at the FTC: The agency’s staff attorneys are looking for new jobs, via the National Law Journal.
Searching for signal: Amazon has acquired Facebook’s satellite internet team. More from The Information.
More Facebook details: ”A Facebook engineer abused access to user data to track down a woman who had left their hotel room after they fought on vacation, new book says,” Insider reports.
Broadband updates: The National Association of Counties released a report on what communities can do to expand broadband access. Meanwhile, USTelecom said in its latest Broadband Pricing Index that entry-level broadband prices have dropped in 2021.
Jamie Tartt, doo-doo-da-doo: Apple cements its status as an entertainment powerhouse with 35 Emmy nominations, including 20 for comedy “Ted Lasso.”
ICYMI: The FCC will launch its rip-and-replace program on Oct. 29, John reports for Pros.
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SEE YOU TOMORROW!