With help from John Hendel, Steven Overly and Leah
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— This won’t be pretty: Today’s House hearing on “disinformation and extremism in the media” could be sidetracked by GOP allegations that Democrats on the panel are angling to censor right-leaning news networks.
— Eyeballs watching emoji: The Trump camp has formally weighed in on the Facebook Oversight Board case deciding whether to reinstate the former president on the platform.
— Senate’s spring to-do list: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is tasking committee chairs with assembling a bipartisan package to outpace China in emerging tech like 5G, AI, quantum and microchips.
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ON THE HILL: MEDIA MISINFO UNDER DEMOCRATS’ MICROSCOPE — Today’s House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing is intended to highlight what leaders say is rampant pandemic and election misinformation and disinformation permeating cable and broadcast networks. That would’ve been a pivot away from their usual haranguing of social media companies over this issue. But many are now tarring Democrats with claims of “censorship” after California Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney pressed TV carriers on Monday on whether they’ll continue carrying right-leaning Fox News, One America News and Newsmax.
— Blowback to the Democrats: That letter was “an affront to the First Amendment,” said Media Institute President Richard Kaplar, whose nonprofit has ties to media companies in the mix. Top GOP lawmakers were also quick to express dismay — including the panel’s top Republican, the head of the Republican Study Committee and Whip Steve Scalise. “This is what you’d see in the Soviet Union,” wrote Scalise, who sits on the subcommittee and could well raise these grievances today. E&C ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) will say in her opening statement that the “hyper-partisan hearing to shame and blame” marks an “obvious direct attack on the First Amendment” and will compare the efforts to those of the Chinese communist party.
— Between the (very thorny) lines: Republicans were just last year blasted as wannabe “speech police” when seeking to have the FCC narrow social media’s Section 230 liability protections. Many will watch Democrats’ words today closely for any hint of support for government intrusion into the media’s activities.
Some frustrated progressives have floated bringing back a regulatory Fairness Doctrine from the 80s to force TV broadcaster balance, but Washington officials have generally avoided suggesting as much. (Former presidential contender Andrew Yang urged its revival just last month, though he misstated that it applied to cable.)
Today’s witnesses don’t seem inclined to recommend government-led solutions, even as they urge lawmakers to “shed light” on media misfires. “Congress can’t, and shouldn’t, regulate journalism in defiance of the First Amendment,” former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien plans to tell lawmakers, per her written testimony. National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith, who’s not testifying, penned an op-ed about how broadcasters already work to avoid spreading bogus information.
— “We have a duty to examine how the perpetuation of these falsehoods impacts the American public,” the California Democrats said in a joint statement, ”from the effect on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to undermining our elections and culminating in a violent insurrection on the United States Capitol. … Disinformation is a life or death matter that warrants a serious discussion.”
FACEBOOK OVERSIGHT BOARD HEARS FROM TRUMP WORLD ON TRUMP BAN — The independent Facebook Oversight Board confirmed Tuesday that it has received input from the Trump camp on its pending case on whether the former president should be allowed back on the platform. The board would not say who submitted the comment on behalf of Donald Trump; a spokesperson referred to it only cryptically as “a user statement” but said it concerned both his Facebook and Instagram accounts.
— A decision in the case is expected by April. Facebook critics have expressed fears that the Oversight Board is leaning toward ruling that Trump should be reinstated on the platform.
FCC EYES 5G AIRWAVES BIDDING FOR OCTOBER — FCC commissioners will vote March 17 on acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s plan to sell 100 MHz of the 5G-friendly airwaves in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band, per an agreement reached last year with the Pentagon, she announced Tuesday. Her draft public notice would open comments on procedures for bidding, set to start in early October (the Trump administration had originally proposed this coming December).
— The many cooks in the kitchen: Wireless carriers are hungry for this spectrum to speed up their 5G networks.
The executive branch has also been coordinating with the FCC to free up these airwaves and in a letter last week noted it won’t seek a special “national emergency” carve-out to allow the military to use it.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt addressed what he called “the 5G problem” Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services hearing, lamenting what he sees as far too little bandwidth available to U.S. commercial carriers compared with China. He told senators the $80 billion in revenue from the FCC’s recent C-band auction should have gone to building out next-gen wireless infrastructure, not to the Treasury. (MT is watching for a potential announcement of winners from that sale this week.)
— Also noteworthy on the FCC’s March agenda: The agency will vote to formally open a proceeding on the benefits of opening 5G radio access network, or RAN, protocols. Open RAN is an innovation that would effectively open up 5G network building to a wider range of companies, and it could mount a long-term competitive threat to China’s 5G hardware suppliers like Huawei. Here’s the full agenda.
SPEAKING OF HUAWEI: SCHUMER PLOTS COUNTERMEASURES ON CHINA — The majority leader told reporters on Tuesday that he’s asked his committee chairs to help put together a bipartisan package to move through the floor this spring “to out-compete China and create new American jobs.” He name-checked emerging technologies like 5G wireless, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductor chips as priorities.
(On that note: President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order today to review global supply chains in an effort to curb the shortage in semiconductors and other goods critical to pandemic recovery, my colleague Gavin Bade reports.)
— Schumer also said on Tuesday that a vote on Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo will take place early next week. Raimondo’s confirmation has been delayed in part because Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) placed a hold on her nomination after she would not commit to keeping Huawei on a Commerce Department black list. That hold is still in place, per Cruz’s office. If it’s not lifted, Schumer will have to force the vote.
GOOGLE DEFENDS FACEBOOK AGREEMENT — The search giant officially responded to the antitrust suit filed by Texas and nine other states, saying its conduct and agreement with Facebook are “lawful, justified [and] procompetitive.” In a filing late Monday, Google rejected nearly all of the allegations in the Texas suit, including that it made a secret illegal pact with the social network in 2018 to divide up the market for ads on websites and apps. “The agreement with Facebook noted in the Complaint is lawful,” Google said. The search giant will appear in court next Friday to try to persuade Judge Sean Jordan to transfer the suit to California.
STATES HIRE MORE LEGAL FIREPOWER FOR GOOGLE SUIT — Colorado has brought on a new antitrust litigator to help in its lawsuit against Google: William F. Cavanaugh, a partner at the law firm Patterson Belknap. Cavanaugh previously served as a deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust during the Obama administration alongside Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “His presence will be a critical part of our future success,” Weiser said, praising Cavanaugh as “an outstanding antitrust lawyer and an experienced antitrust enforcer.”
Jeff Blackburn, who was Amazon’s senior vice president of business and corporate development before taking a sabbatical early last year, is leaving the company. … Susan Fox, who until now was Disney’s vice president of government relations, is becoming senior vice president to lead Disney’s government relations work in Washington.
Reflections on the Facebook-Australia saga: “Australia’s stand-off with Big Tech is only the beginning of a wider war,” POLITICO’s Mark Scott reports from Brussels.
California’s net neutrality win: “California can begin enforcing its groundbreaking net neutrality law after a judge rejected a telecommunications industry challenge,” POLITICO reports.
Internet threat: “How the military behind Myanmar’s coup took the country offline,” via NYT.
Podcast OTD: “Ellysse and Ashley Break the Internet,” a new series from policy analysts at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation examining “the ins and outs of the Section 230 debate.”
Yes, the chip shortage is already threatening Christmas shopping: PlayStation 5 may take a hit for the holidays, Ars Technica reports.
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