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— New year, new round of confirmation battles: The White House will today re-up a trio of key tech nominations as the new Senate session begins.
— Tech giants deploy their army: Amazon and Google are mobilizing sympathetic users and small businesses to try to beat back congressional antitrust proposals.
— 5G fracas: Tempers remain hot as AT&T and Verizon charge ahead with Wednesday’s 5G wireless launch, despite warnings from top transportation officials that air travel will suffer.
WELCOME TO THE NEW YEAR! John Hendel filling in to kick off 2022’s first Morning Tech (and full of regret for not hosting my own “crazy disco party” to ring in the occasion. Stay alive, MT readers.)
Send your fave disco tune to @JohnHendel or [email protected]. Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
TAKE TWO FOR TECH NOMINEES — Democrats are gearing up for another attempt at confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees for top posts at the FCC, FTC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, after GOP objections stalled them last year. The three nominations — Gigi Sohn for the open FCC seat, Alvaro Bedoya for the open FTC seat and Alan Davidson to head NTIA — technically expired when the December session ended.
— The White House is planning later today to formally renew its nominations of Sohn, Bedoya and Davidson, an administration official told your MT host, speaking anonymously so as not to get ahead of the announcement. Doing so will allow Senate Democratic leadership to begin taking steps in committee and on the floor to try to lock down the confirmations. The Senate will convene later today.
— Challenges await: Republicans have slowed down consideration of all three of these picks, delaying the inauguration of Democratic majorities at the FCC and FTC and holding back Democrats’ tech and telecom priorities, like more progressive policies on net neutrality and antitrust.
In order of most to least likely to make it, here’s what to watch with each nominee:
Davidson for NTIA: Davidson would help clear the way for more than $40 billion in broadband infrastructure investments, and a bipartisan mix of senators appears fine with letting him do so. He successfully cleared the Senate Commerce Committee by voice vote late last year, with only a handful of GOP detractors. Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) had even angled to tuck him a year-end nominations package.
“We don’t want to wait,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) lamented on Dec. 17, as the Senate was finishing its final business. “We need someone who knows what he’s doing in place now.”
But Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has imposed a broad blockade of Commerce Department nominees over unrelated supply chain grievances. Davidson may require a formal roll call vote on the Senate floor — but once leadership finds the time, he seems likely to have plenty of votes.
Bedoya for FTC: Bedoya, a longtime privacy advocate who, like Sohn, faces GOP complaints over past partisan tweets, faces bigger procedural hurdles than Davidson and is unlikely to win the same amount of bipartisan support.
The committee deadlocked along partisan lines when it voted on him in December, with every Republican siding against. He could still advance to the floor with unified Democratic support, but Democrats would need to find the time for three roll call votes. (In addition to cloture and confirmation votes, Bedoya would need one simply to discharge him from the Senate Commerce Committee — and that adds up to a lot of floor time.)
Sohn for FCC: Sohn’s path remains perhaps the trickiest. She has yet to receive a Senate Commerce vote, and it’s not clear she has enough Democratic votes to advance in the face of intense GOP resistance. Reservations include ethics questions about possible broadcasting conflicts (she recently sat on the board of a TV streaming nonprofit that the broadcast TV networks sued and stopped). The White House has derided these concerns as meritless, despite members of both parties probing Sohn on the matter.
But she is slowly winning fans: Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) plan to vote yes, their offices recently told MT, adding to the mix of already supportive Democratic senators. And Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Sohn had what an aide called a “productive conversation” Dec. 17 about the senator’s lingering questions, although she has yet to announce a firm position. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — a moderate and skeptic of the Obama-era net neutrality rules Sohn championed — has yet to weigh in, despite repeated inquiries to her spokespeople.
AMAZON, GOOGLE MOBILIZE TO FIGHT ANTITRUST CRACKDOWN — The two tech giants are using the small businesses that rely on their services to try to sway lawmakers against bipartisan antitrust bills that would curb their power, Emily reports in a new dispatch out for Pros this morning. Their tactics include organizing petitions, firing off email blasts and having their entrepreneur allies talk directly to the lawmakers via Zoom calls.
— Supporters of the antitrust bills are wary: “They’re using scare tactics,” said House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who has helped spearhead some of the lower chamber’s antitrust work. “They will definitely find some receptive ears.”
— Google and Amazon argue that the antitrust legislation could hinder their ability to offer popular services, such as Amazon Prime. The companies “do not often mobilize their legions of customers to rail against legislation, but that’s the lever that they have chosen to pull during this lobbying battle,” Emily writes. “Amazon has been the most outspoken on the bills, blasting out emails to its listserv of the thousands of online businesses that sell on its site.”
— Time is ticking: Congressional midterm elections will take place this November, shortening the amount of legislative time for moving the antitrust bills this session. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have expressed objections to many of the antitrust proposals, casting doubts on the future of these efforts if the GOP takes over the House next year.
5G STANDOFF REACHES NEW HEIGHTS — Tensions are rising ahead of AT&T’s and Verizon’s planned launch of new 5G service using the C-band airwaves they won at FCC auction last year. The aviation industry has warned that the 5G rollout could cause chaos for U.S. air travel — right in the middle of a season full of pandemic-fueled flight cancellations.
— The latest maneuver: AT&T’s and Verizon’s CEOs on Sunday rejected a New Year’s Eve plea from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the FAA to delay the planned Wednesday launch, as your MT host reported. They instead proposed to take more extensive mitigation measures for the first six months of this year to avoid potential interference with aviation instruments, similar to what France has required.
— The companies’ rebuff will raise the stakes for agencies over the next several days. The wireless industry said it hopes its proposal will avoid escalation in “other venues” (the aviation industry has an emergency FCC petition, for instance, to try to halt the launch). “I am optimistic that by working together we can both advance the wireless economy and ensure aviation safety,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel maintained in a statement Sunday, declining to comment on specific developments.
— The parties “are not operating off the same set of facts,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, tweeted Sunday, warning that the air traffic and wireless systems differ in the U.S. and France in ways that contradict wireless industry assurances. “Pilots, Flight Attendants, airlines, manufacturers, others…have NO incentive to delay 5G, other than SAFETY. What do they think…we’re raising these issues over the holidays for kicks?”
— But the FCC record is at odds with the aviation industry’s concerns, and the agency was intended to make such tough calls, according to current and former officials. GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr called the DOT’s New Year’s Eve request “highly irregular” in his own letter Saturday.
— We’ll be watching for chatter about the issue as CES kicks off in Las Vegas later this week, given the convergence of transportation and telecom interests at the show. Sign up to receive coverage from your host and Alexandra Levine. Despite many big companies’ cancellations amid the Omicron coronavirus surge, the in-person show is on (albeit for one day shorter than planned).
Lauren Belive, who recently led U.S. government relations for Zoom and previously had stints at Lyft and the White House, is joining SoftBank Group this week as a director of government affairs. SoftBank also promoted Jeff Dressler, Emily Christy and Christin Baker to the position of partner … The FCC announced members who will serve on the six working groups of the rechartered Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council … The FCC also launched the Affordable Connectivity Program, the new $14 billion version of its Emergency Broadband Benefit subsidy for low-income households.
Twitter boots MTG: “Twitter on Sunday banned the personal account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for multiple violations of its Covid-19 misinformation policy,” per the Associated Press.
Department of unintended consequences: Facebook’s advertising limitations could hinder recruitment for clinical trials, POLITICO’s Darius Tahir reports.
ICYMI: Following the recent whistleblower revelations, “former executives said Mr. Zuckerberg has told employees not to apologize,” the Wall Street Journal writes.
Much to untangle: A CrowdTangle co-founder, until recently employed by Facebook, is now “working with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators on legislation that would, among other things, force the giant social media platforms to provide the sort of transparency that got him marginalized at Facebook,” via The New York Times.
Joining the Gigi Sohn Fan Club: Preston Padden, a longtime broadcast lobbyist (including for Rupert Murdoch), pens an op-ed endorsing the FCC nominee.
Taking stock: The Wall Street Journal looks into the financial interests of a judge who has favored Amazon.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Rebecca Kern ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([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.