With help from John Hendel and Leah Nylen
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— Boosting access: FCC commissioners are voting today on whether people should be able to text the national suicide hotline.
— Deadlock drama: The FTC will consider a possible supply chain study today at its monthly meeting. But does it have the votes?
— Singing a new song: Apple plans to allow self-service repairs, the latest example of a big tech company changing its stance on a policy issue where Washington is threatening to act.
IT’S THURSDAY, NOV. 18. WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Benjamin Din. Thanksgiving is in one week. If you’re worried about what you’ll talk about at the dinner table, don’t be. Here are 100 conversation topics to get you started. (Don’t forget you heard about it here first in MT!)
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SEND IT VIA TEXT — Commissioners will vote today at the FCC’s open meeting on a plan from Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to require carriers to let their customers text the 988 short-code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If approved, that would take effect July 16, the same date that the FCC has set for carriers to roll out that dialing code nationally, under a Trump-era effort championed by former Chair Ajit Pai.
— Detail to watch: Although the wireless industry generally favors Rosenworcel’s ambitions on this issue, wireless trade group CTIA did want to make sure consumers could receive bounceback messages if their texts fail to reach the hotline. Rosenworcel’s draft proposal declines to make any bounceback requirements, but commissioners could have haggled over the language in recent weeks.
“We do have a suicide crisis in this country,” Rosenworcel told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday during her renomination hearing, touting these initiatives. “The rates for teen girls are three times higher than they’ve been over the last 20 years. It’s true for young people of color, LGBTQ youth and our veterans.” Texting is the “native language” for young people, she added.
MEANWHILE: CLOCK TICKS FOR ROSENWORCEL — Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters on Wednesday that she still plans to move fast on Rosenworcel’s renomination to a new five-year term at the agency and fully expects to get her reconfirmed before the end of the year. Multiple Senate Democrats emphasized that need for speed during the FCC chair’s confirmation hearing, pointing out that Rosenworcel would have to leave at the end of the year if there’s no Senate vote.
— A generally friction-free affair: Rosenworcel dodged barbs during the many hours of questioning from Senate Commerce members, who pressed her on how soon she’ll be able to produce more accurate broadband maps (the FCC now has a location fabric vendor called CostQuest Associates, John reports for Pros, but Rosenworcel fears time-consuming challenges from other bidders). She also wants better coordination on the wireless airwaves, saying the National Telecommunications and Information Administration should truly speak for other federal agencies.
— One issue, unsurprisingly, did stoke GOP discontent: Republicans raised concerns about whether and how Rosenworcel would go about reviving Obama-era net neutrality rules once she has a Democratic majority. She wouldn’t commit to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to come to Congress for guidance first, saying she believes the agency has the authority it needs — although she made clear she doesn’t see any regulatory shortcuts for restoring the safeguards, which the commission rolled back in 2017.
“If the agency were to proceed, we’d have to start with a traditional rulemaking, to ask questions and get updates,” Rosenworcel told lawmakers. “And of course that would include information associated with our increased use of broadband during this pandemic.”
— But net neutrality aside: The largely smooth session bodes well for her prospects for a bipartisan reconfirmation.
IT’S OFFICIAL: WU & KHAN & KANTER ARE IN BUSINESS — Those coffee mugs are now collectors’ items. Jonathan Kanter was sworn in as assistant attorney general for antitrust Wednesday evening. As Leah reported for Pros after his bipartisan confirmation, he has a full plate waiting for him, though all eyes will be trained on what happens with the antitrust probes into Apple and into Google’s ad tech business.
Meanwhile, FTC Chair Lina Khan was spotted in the Senate on Wednesday, lending her support to Democrat Alvaro Bedoya at his confirmation hearing. (His confirmation would give Khan a Democratic majority at the FTC.) Khan has her own packed agenda, which includes antitrust and privacy rulemakings. Over at the White House, Tim Wu helped shepherd President Joe Biden’s executive order on competition into existence in July. What remains is the hard part: following up with all those executive branch agencies and their plans to improve competition across the economy.
STORM CLOUDS AHEAD FOR BEDOYA? — However, it may take a while for Khan to break the agency’s current partisan tie, after multiple Republican senators laid into Bedoya at his hearing — a sign that the nominee could face a protracted confirmation process. (Their stated concerns were largely not with his potential responsibilities at the FTC, but rather his Twitter use on topics including immigration, race and the Trump administration, as Alex reported for Pros.)
— Why that’s a problem: The Senate typically confirms noncontroversial nominees by unanimous consent, rather than spending valuable floor time on a recorded vote. With all the pending legislative priorities crowding the floor schedule — from the annual defense bill to Democrats’ social spending package — Republican opposition would hold up Bedoya’s nomination process and stall Khan’s agenda.
FTC LOOKS AT SUPPLY CHAINS — The FTC will debate today a study on how consumers are affected by supply chain disruptions. The consumer protection agency can order companies to turn over information or documents for research, powers the FTC has used to study the pharmaceutical industry, the privacy practices of broadband providers and startup acquisitions by the U.S. tech giants.
The supply chain study would seek information from unnamed “large retailers and consumer goods suppliers” — a list that’s likely to include companies like Walmart and Target, supermarkets and Khan nemesis Amazon. The agency said the study would look into why supply chain disruptions are occurring, shortages and whether these problems are the cause of rising consumer prices.
— What to watch for: Will all four commissioners vote for the study? Since taking over as chair, Khan has angered the agency’s two GOP members by declining to consult them before moving to rescind FTC policies — actions that she took before she lost her majority with Democrat Rohit Chopra’s departure last month. Without Bedoya’s vote, Khan is limited in what she can do, as evidenced by the reduced number and generally milquetoast nature of her agenda items at recent FTC meetings.
Last week, Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson called out Khan, accusing her of discarding the agency’s history of bipartisanship. But Wilson has repeatedly urged the FTC to undertake more studies, mentioning that she is “a big fan” of the agency’s research. Khan will need either of the Republicans — Wilson or Noah Phillips — to vote in favor of the supply chain study for it to move forward.
ONCE AGAIN, TECH CHANGES ITS TUNE — Apple announced Wednesday that it would launch a program early next year that would make it easier for customers to repair their own Apple devices — a reversal for a company that has long prided itself on its closed ecosystem of products and directed customers to its own stores or authorized outlets for repairs. It’s the latest in a string of incidents where tech companies have made concessions ahead of potential legal, legislative or regulatory action.
— Upping the pressure: In May, the FTC released a report to Congress examining anti-competitive repair restrictions and cited Apple as an example. As part of his executive order on competition, Biden recommended the FTC to pursue rules related to restrictions on third-party or self repairing of items.
Apple has made other concessions in recent months related to its App Store, as senators consider legislation that would loosen its control and Google’s over their respective stores. In a recent court filing, Apple highlighted a recent agreement to allow developers to email customers as evidence it was making progress.
Meanwhile, Facebook recently announced it was shutting down a facial recognition system, amid lawmakers’ scrutiny of the privacy implications of the technology. And Amazon reversed its position on a bill that would crack down on counterfeits being sold online after some changes were made to the legislation. (That bill was approved unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.)
— The counterargument: Some tech critics point out that many of these actions are just minor concessions that won’t have a significant impact on these companies.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS — The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced two legislative hearings focused on holding the tech giants accountable. The first will be held by the telecom panel on Dec. 1 and will consider changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the online industry’s liability shield for user-posted content. The second, scheduled for Dec. 9, will be led by the consumer protection panel and consider proposals related to transparency, online safety and accountability.
The committee didn’t say which bills would be discussed, but Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), telecom Chair Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and consumer protection Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a bill last month that would remove Section 230 protections from platforms using “malicious algorithms.”
LET’S TRY THIS AGAIN — Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, both California Democrats, are re-introducing their Online Privacy Act this morning. The bill would give users more rights over their data, limit data collection by companies and create a digital privacy agency to enforce privacy protections and investigate abuses.
Amy Nathan is retiring after 23 years at the FCC, where she was most recently senior counsel in the Office of Economics and Analytics. Nathan, who joined the agency in 1998 and advised nine FCC chairs, is a Washington Post, Akin Gump and Mayer Brown alum. Rosenworcel is expected to announce Nathan’s departure at today’s open meeting.
Camille François has joined Niantic Labs as its first global director for trust and safety. … Wendy Anderson has joined the board of advisers of the Truman Center for National Policy. Anderson, an Obama DoD and Commerce alum, is senior counselor at Palantir Technologies and a founding member of Chief. … Ken Koffman is retiring from the Telecommunications Industry Association, where he is SVP and CTO, at the end of the year. He was a founder of the TIA QuEST Forum. Mike Regan has been hired as VP for business performance and will oversee the forum’s initiatives. … Katy Nazaretova has joined Forza DC as director of national security and technology policy. She was most recently a military and national security adviser to Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.).
Microsoft and Uber are leaving the Internet Association, Axios reports.
SPOTTED at a party Tuesday night hosted by Stand Together for Neil Chilson’s new book “Getting Out of Control: Emergent Leadership for a Complex World” at the Consumer Technology Association’s Innovation House on Capitol Hill: Maureen Ohlhausen (who interviewed Chilson about the book), Jesse Blumenthal, Billy Easley, Taylor Barkley, Steve DelBianco, Carl Szabo, Jim Fellinger, Tiffany Moore and Michael Petricone.
Follow the money: “Silicon Valley Law Firm Sees Surge in Africa Startup Fundraising,” Bloomberg reports.
Zooming in on Texas: Local governments hope to capitalize on a coming domestic chip-making boom amid the global semiconductor shortage, NYT reports.
Celebrity profile: “Unfriended: Frances Haugen on her Facebook Testimony and What Comes Next,” via Vogue.
First in MT: The tech antitrust legislation being considered by Congress would harm American leadership in science and technology, as well as hurt U.S. competitiveness, according to the tech-funded Progressive Policy Institute’s Innovation Frontier Project.
Also first in MT: Fixed wireless access services, powered by 5G, could reach up to 8.4 million rural households, providing nearly half of rural households with a cost-effective high-speed broadband option, according to a report commissioned by CTIA.
Make it clear: The NTIA should make it clear that the money for broadband included in the infrastructure package can go toward Open RAN deployment, companies including Cisco, Dell, DISH Network, Mavenir, Qualcomm and VMware wrote to the agency.
Warning shot: “Gigi Sohn’s Confirmation to the FCC Will Undermine Minority Media Growth and Achievement,” minority broadcast owner Armstrong Williams writes in NextTV.
SEE YOU TOMORROW!