FCC (finally) faces House lawmakers- POLITICO
With help from John Hendel, Leah Nylen, Emily Birnbaum and Hailey Fuchs
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— Back at it: For the first time since the start of the Biden administration, all confirmed members of the Federal Communications Commission will testify in the House this morning.
— Still spending: A libertarian nonprofit is dropping more than $3 million on a new ad attacking the Senate’s efforts to pass tech-related antitrust legislation.
— Lift the curtain: A new advocacy coalition is calling on states to ban the use of nondisclosure agreements in development deals — a practice Amazon has favored.
IT’S THURSDAY, MARCH 31. Welcome to Morning Tech! Looks like someone at C-SPAN got pretty annoyed with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) for his lengthy hold up of Wednesday’s Senate vote on FTC nominee Alvaro Bedoya. Not all heroes wear capes.
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BRING ON THE FCC OVERSIGHT — For the first time in a year and a half, all four FCC commissioners will testify this morning before the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee. The big topic will likely be the billions in broadband investments Congress has tasked the agency with spending on a slew of newly created broadband internet programs focused on affordability, telehealth and distance learning.
Jessica Rosenworcel, who is testifying before the panel for the first time as FCC chair, plans to say this morning that these programs will “build a foundation for growth and opportunity in a post-pandemic world,” per prepared remarks.
The FCC has also been tasked with putting together more accurate broadband maps to guide the infrastructure law’s $48 billion in broadband deployment grants. Rosenworcel will likely be pressed for a status report (she’s generally avoided nailing down a timeline for their release, amid past delays).
— Limited fodder for partisan warfare: House Republicans have been agitating for this morning’s oversight hearing for some time. But the meeting will likely be relatively peaceful, given the absence of big fights at the commission, where Rosenworcel has lacked a Democratic majority since taking the gavel at the start of President Joe Biden’s term.
The FCC’s 2-2 partisan tie has meant that the commission’s decisions have required months of close cooperation. (One sign of such cooperation: Rosenworcel and GOP Commissioner Nathan Simington worked together on launching a notice of inquiry to explore how to make wireless receivers more efficient, which will go up for a vote April 21.) It’s a dynamic that’s put Democrats’ dreams of restoring net neutrality rules — an issue that’s fueled the feistiest partisan fights in recent years — on hold for now.
That could change soon, however: Senate leaders are working to set up floor votes soon to confirm Gigi Sohn to fill the FCC’s final Democratic seat. Today Rosenworcel plans to tell lawmakers that much of the FCC’s coming agenda hinges on having “a full commission.”
— Democrats agree: “I hope that seat is filled quickly, so the agency can reverse some of the harmful actions from the last administration,” committee chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) plans to say, per prepared remarks shared with MT. Pallone will argue it’s “past time that the FCC assume its place as the agency with expertise to oversee broadband service providers and with authority to adopt rules to protect consumers.”
— Possible friction points: Committee lawmakers have spent recent months worrying about how the government manages spectrum, spurred in part by the recent fight over fears that 5G would disrupt the aviation industry. In his testimony, GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr plans to lament the “dysfunctional trend” of agencies like the Department of Transportation ignoring FCC’s expertise on airwaves, and will ask for congressional backup in the commission’s disagreements with other agencies.
FIRST IN MT: NEW AD USES FORMER TRUMP OFFICIAL TO ATTACK ANTITRUST: The Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a libertarian-leaning nonprofit, is deploying Keith Kellogg, a retired Army general and former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, to criticize Congress’ antitrust push against the largest tech platforms.
In a more than $3 million ad buy, a video set to run on national cable news and across tech platforms in 20 states features Kellogg claiming that bipartisan antitrust bills (S. 2992 and S. 2710), introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Mich.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.),“could squander [the] sacrifices” of American veterans and “empower communist China to surpass the United States economically and militarily.”
“We cannot let China win the tech race,” Kellogg warns in the ad.
— A familiar refrain: It’s not the first time former high-ranking security officials have weighed in against congressional efforts to rein in Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. But it’s rather unusual to see an official from the Trump administration — hardly a friend to any of those companies — so clearly go to bat for them.
TPA head Patrick Hedger said the ads will run on Facebook, Hulu and local news sites in the 20 states targeted. As of early March, TPA had spent less than $200,000 this year on Facebook ads targeting the antitrust bills.
NOT SO CONNECTED — The Connected Commerce Council, a group that lobbies against tech regulations, claims to speak for small businesses. The only problem: Dozens of those small businesses say they’ve never heard of it. Read Emily’s detail-packed story on this Amazon- and Google-backed organization.
NO MORE SECRET DEALS— A coalition of advocacy groups is launching a campaign today to persuade states to ban secret negotiations over economic development deals — a practice Amazon (along with other major employers, like General Motors and electric vehicle companies Canoo and Rivian) has been known to employ. Bills barring the use of nondisclosure agreements in those negotiations are already pending in states such as New York, Michigan, Illinois.
The campaign’s backers include the American Economic Liberties Project along with nonprofits Good Jobs First, Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Reinvent Albany.
— All very hush-hush: States and localities spend between $45 billion and $90 billion on economic development deals each year, often in the form of tax breaks for companies that agree to build facilities or locate new jobs in a particular location. Chicago-area communities in Illinois, for example, agreed to $741 million in subsidies for Amazon to build warehouses there.
But companies have begun asking lawmakers to sign nondisclosure agreements about such deals, allowing them to negotiate the terms behind closed doors with little public input, said Pat Garofalo, the director of state and local policy at AELP.
“[These are] public resources, taxpayer dollars, and the people voted into office signing agreements saying they can’t divulge what they are going to do with that money,” said Garofalo, who helped build a database of deals shielded by NDAs. “Corporations are trying to cut other stakeholders out of discussion until it’s too late.”
FIRST IN MT: CONFLICTED OUT — Government ethics and consumer groups are calling for greater scrutiny of the ties between tech giants and academics — particularly experts cited by judges in cases involving the major tech companies.
AELP and the Revolving Door Project, among other groups, are accusing the top tech companies in a letter of “systematically fund[ing] the careers of many of the country’s foremost legal experts for years as legal scrutiny has built.” The letter was addressed to the Center for Judicial Ethics, an organization focused on resolving judicial misconduct and ethical violations in the judicial system.
The letter references a June 2021 ruling by a federal judge that tossed a case against Facebook brought by the FTC and 48 state attorneys general. That ruling cited work by two academics associated with the Global Antitrust Institute, a think tank primarily funded by tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon.
The letter asks the Center for Judicial Ethics to “assist judges” so that they can avoid “experts and academics with obvious conflicts of interest as they adjudicate the many cases regarding the Big Tech platforms.”
FOSI FALLOUT — A leading children’s safety group is considering whether to kick Facebook out of its ranks, in the wake of a Washington Post report that the company paid for GOP-backed PR firm Targeted Victory to launch a smear campaign against TikTok.
Stephen Balkam, founder of the Family Online Safety Institute — of which Facebook is a member — told our colleague Hailey Fuchs that the group is “reviewing the organization’s ties” to Facebook in light of the allegations.
“We are deeply concerned and deeply troubled by what we read in the Post this morning,” Balkham said, adding that while they have the power to suspend or revoke a member, “no action has been taken.”
FOSI, among other internet safety groups that consult with the company, is also a member of the Facebook Safety Advisory Board. Balkam said that FOSI would reconsider its position on the board if it suspended or revoked Facebook’s membership.
Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook parent company Meta, declined to comment on FOSI’s potential plans.
— Major player: FOSI’s members include Amazon, Google, Microsoft and a bevy of other top companies. The group works directly with tech companies to firm up their rules on protecting children. TikTok also joined the internet safety nonprofit in October 2019. FOSI and TikTok jointly hosted a series of internet safety seminars in 2020.
Leah Dempsey, currently the vice president and senior counsel for federal advocacy at ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, will join the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck next month as a shareholder.
Here you go, ‘officer’: Bloomberg reports that Meta and Apple turned over personally identifiable customer information — including addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses — to hackers posing as law enforcement officials.
VPNs on a tightrope: Virtual private network providers are struggling to navigate between a surge in demand from Russian citizens and the Kremlin’s efforts to crack down on VPN usage, according to Wired.
First in MT: Tech lobbying group Chamber of Progress is chiding the Department of Justice for its recent statement in support of the congressional antitrust push, arguing that the “half-finished nature” of the bills renders DOJ’s backing “premature.”
Keep your money: Bloomberg reports that Republicans in at least 28 states are so angry over Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 million in pandemic-related election donations that they’re working to ban future private grants to election officials.
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