With help from John Hendel and Caitlin Oprysko
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— Let the broadband bargaining begin: There was hardly any daylight between President Joe Biden’s infrastructure announcement and the beginning of what could be the biggest lobbying effort in history. Who’s already meeting with the White House?
— Not out of the (robocall) woods: After the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Facebook has — under a 30-year-old robocall law — done no wrong by texting its users, congressional Democrats are teasing legislation to update that law and “fix the Court’s error.”
— You ain’t seen nothin’ yet: Uber is beefing up its lobbying presence in Washington as Silicon Valley gig giants face pressure, on both sides of the Atlantic, to reclassify their workers.
HAPPY GOOD FRIDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
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WHITE HOUSE HUDDLES WITH SMALL BROADBAND PLAYERS — One day after the Biden administration released its proposed $100 billion broadband infrastructure plan, White House officials met privately Thursday with the CEOs of trade groups representing smaller internet service providers. (Longtime lobbyists have said the package could prompt the most aggressive lobbying push in history.)
— The guest list: America’s Communications Association, the Competitive Carriers Association, NTCA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Rural Wireless Association and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. WISPA told John this meeting was long planned, non-confrontational and seemingly part of how the Biden administration is gathering infrastructure intel straight from industry. The Competitive Carriers Association confirmed it was “pleased to participate.”
— What about the big guys? Although some bigger ISPs balk at Biden’s proposal, these smaller trade groups have been playing a more careful game and see much they like. Stephen Bell, a spokesperson for the electric cooperative association, told John his organization likes the White House’s “recognition of the strong promise that the cooperative business model holds in the effort to connect many rural communities.” And Shirley Bloomfield, who heads NTCA, recently chided larger industry incumbents like AT&T for opposing hikes in minimum broadband speeds, a priority for Hill Democrats and something Biden seems to support in invoking “future-proof” broadband investments (many read this as a nod to supporting fiber buildout, which allows higher speeds).
— What say the White House? Not commenting on Thursday’s session, although an administration official said the White House has met with a wide range of parties and will continue doing so.
SCOTUS FACEBOOK RULING PROMPTS NEW LEGISLATION — A Thursday Supreme Court ruling that said Facebook doesn’t run afoul of a 1991 robocall law with its texts to consumers is now prompting fresh action in Congress. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) announced shortly after that they “plan to soon introduce legislation to amend the [Telephone Consumer Protection Act], fix the Court’s error, and protect consumers.”
“If the Justices find their private mobile phones ringing non-stop from now until our legislation becomes law, they’ll only have themselves to blame,” the Democrats wrote.
— Facebook victory: General Counsel Jennifer Newstead said the SCOTUS decision “will allow companies to continue working to keep the accounts of their users safe.” Businesses had sided with the tech company as they sought more certainty around the 1991 statute, even as consumer advocates fear that a narrow ruling could open a floodgate of new robocalls from telemarketers.
MEDIA OWNERSHIP FIGHT LANDS ON FCC DEMOCRATS’ DOORSTEP — In a legacy boost for former FCC Chair Ajit Pai, the Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a lower-court decision to allow Pai’s relaxation of media ownership rules to stand, as John reported. But now the question is: What will acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel do about it?
— Advocacy groups that opposed the deregulation are vocal: Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld said the ruling still “reaffirmed the right — indeed, the responsibility — of Congress and the FCC to create ownership rules that protect independent ownership and affirmatively promote diversity and localism in media.” Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who now advises Common Cause, expressed confidence that the Biden FCC will move fast “to develop strong media ownership rules in the public interest.”
“It would be very challenging for a future Commission to row in a more pro-regulatory direction when no party even attempted to argue in this case that the rules remained necessary to promote competition,” said Tom Johnson, who served as Pai’s general counsel at the FCC (and said he was “gratified” by Thursday’s ruling).
— Paging J-Ro: Rosenworcel, who objected to the GOP’s deregulatory moves during the Trump era, didn’t offer specific plans: “While I am disappointed by the Court’s decision,” she said in a statement, “the values that have long upheld our media policies — competition, localism, and diversity — remain strong.” She’ll ensure these principles steer the agency’s work in the future, she added.
Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican who backed loosening these ownership rules, says the FCC should quickly reinstate a broadcast incubator program that had been ensnared in the court battle.
UBER DRIVES LOBBYING MUSCLE FORWARD — Alexis Tkachuk, who served in Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s administration in Boston, has been hired as a subcontractor to Tremont Strategies to lobby for Uber, my colleague Caitlin Oprysko reports. She’ll lobby on future-of-work and gig economy issues as well as “possible anti-competitive activities that could limit” users’ access to “app-based technologies,” according to a disclosure filing. The ride-hail company earlier this week brought on a team from the Boston-based firm that includes David Garriepy, Gov. Charlie Baker’s former liaison to Washington, per the filings.
— Timing is everything: It’s one of the company’s first additions since last summer to an already-sizable roster of outside lobbying firms, and it comes as fellow gig companies fight off efforts to force them to reclassify their workers (a battle lost recently in the U.K., as we reported in MT).
Caitriona Fitzgerald has been named deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. … Katie Harbath, who was previously Facebook’s public policy director for global elections, has joined the Bipartisan Policy Center as an elections fellow and the advisory board of the Rainey Center. … Vikrum Aiyer, former vice president of global public policy and strategic communications at Postmates and an Obama White House alum, is joining the ACLU as deputy director in the national political advocacy department.
First Responder Network (FirstNet) Authority and AT&T announced a new approach to 5G that is focused on first responders, as well as a FirstNet Health & Wellness Coalition to support those workers. … Lime launched mopeds in D.C. … Non-EU firms Palantir, Huawei and Alibaba were approved as members of Europe’s cloud initiative Gaia-X.
Don’t underestimate the data brokers: “Data broker spending on lobbying in 2020 rivaled the spending of individual Big Tech firms like Facebook and Google,” The Markup reports. “Oracle, which has spent the past decade acquiring companies that collect data, spent the most by far.”
Just throw money at it: A Republican lawmaker in Arizona, where a “bill to expand payment options in Apple’s and Google’s app stores has failed in the state Senate,” said Apple and Google “hired almost every lobbyist in town” to quash the measure, ArsTechnica reports.
In profile: Travis View, who is really Logan Strain, one of QAnon’s most widely quoted critics. He has long gone by a pseudonym “to freely comment on QAnon — whose followers are known for harassing critics and journalists — without risking possible repercussions,” WaPo reports.
Uber disability case: Uber must pay $1.1 million to a blind woman in San Francisco who alleged drivers refused to pick up her and her guide dog, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Eyeballs watching emoji: “The Texas Senate on Thursday passed a bill blocking social media platforms from banning residents based on their political views,” The Hill reports.
Seriously, no rush: “It’s been more than 500 days since the Pentagon tapped Microsoft to build its cloud computing program, yet work on the project has still not begun,” POLITICO reports.
Google’s harder line on return-to-work: “If employees, after Sept. 1, want to work remotely for more than 14 days per year, they will have to submit a formal application,” CNBC reports.
Huawei’s biggest European rival is coming to its rescue: “Even though Ericsson is benefiting from sanctions, CEO Börje Ekholm felt moved to lobby for [its] Chinese rival to ward off a backlash from Beijing,” WSJ reports.
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