With help from Leah Nylen, Rebecca Kern and John Hendel
Editor’s Note: Morning Tech is a free version of POLITICO Pro Technology’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.
— App store antitrust bill gets markup: The bipartisan Open App Markets Act is poised to advance out of the Senate Judiciary Committee — with a last-minute amendment.
— Research races to center of America COMPETES: The competitiveness bill now on the House floor is packed with R&D provisions, including some quite unpalatable to the Senate.
— New push for AI transparency: Democrats in both chambers are unveiling an overhauled version of their bill to require more visibility into how opaque AI tools work.
IT’S THURSDAY, FEB. 3. Welcome to Morning Tech! All the action around the America COMPETES Act has me thinking — what the heck happened to imaginative bill titles? The House bill has the exact same name as legislation introduced in 2007 — and don’t even get me started on USICA! Schumer had the right idea with the Vannevar Bush-inspired Endless Frontier Act, but I guess creativity is rarely rewarded in Washington…
Tips are welcome every week, but especially this one. Please send to @BrendanBordelon, or by email to [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.
APP STORES IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Senate Judiciary will take up its second major antitrust bill this morning, marking up the Open App Markets Act (S. 2710), legislation to rein in Apple and Google’s dominance in mobile app markets. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will offer a manager’s amendment to clarify that tech giants can impose user privacy and cybersecurity requirements on app developers (Leah and Rebecca have the full details for Pros).
Blumenthal said the manager’s amendment “takes into account the concerns that have been raised about privacy and cybersecurity” and predicted “overwhelming support” from the panel. The bill currently has backing from eight other lawmakers, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), head of the antitrust subcommittee, and five other Senate Judiciary members.
A bevy of groups that accept Apple or Google funding, including ACT — The App Association, the Chamber of Progress and NetChoice, have blasted the bill as a threat to consumer privacy and to the cybersecurity of the Apple iOS and Google Android platforms. All three groups said the amendment failed to solve these problems.
Senators have been subject to a whirlwind of lobbying on the bill, with Apple CEO Tim Cook again arranging personal calls to head off the legislation. The Tech Oversight Project — a non-profit funded by the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic venture of eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar, and the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’ Economic Security Project — is running TV advertisements starting today. The ad, shown on cable in the D.C. area, pushes back on arguments from Apple, Google, Meta and Amazon that the antitrust bills will harm U.S. national security.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, House Judiciary’s antitrust chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is expected to meet with the moderate New Democrats Coalition to discuss the tech antitrust package, two House aides who weren’t authorized to speak on the record confirmed to MT. The coalition, chaired by Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-Wash.), includes 21 members from California and Washington — states where large tech companies are headquartered — and it raised concerns about the bills last summer before the House Judiciary markup.
HOUSE SCIENCE’S TIME TO SHINE — With amendments percolating and a full House vote tentatively pegged for Friday, Democrats on the House Science Committee are on the cusp of passing their once-in-a-generation overhaul of America’s R&D apparatus — and they’re already planning for a conference with the Senate, where things get a lot more tricky.
— Core priorities: America COMPETES (H.R. 4521), competitiveness legislation serving as the House’s response to the Senate’s China-focused U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), is massive, with 600 amendments filed and 260 now under consideration.
But many of the package’s central pillars relate to bolstering America’s slipping R&D infrastructure. That includes legislation passed out of House Science that authorizes large funding increases and structural changes to the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
But wait, there’s more! In a call with reporters, staffers representing Democratic leadership on the House Science Committee (who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly) also highlighted provisions to create a government-wide science-and-tech strategy, bolster rural STEM education, help transfer technologies from laboratories to the market and stand up a new microelectronics program at the Department of Energy.
— Amendments abound: MT is also watching what happens in the amendments process today and tomorrow. A couple highlights:
An amendment widening the bill’s exemption of foreign STEM PhD graduates from green card caps to include those with master’s degrees, a change seen as key to attracting talent for the semiconductor industry. The staffers said Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) will likely support that provision.
Another amendment would direct science agencies to consider not awarding grants to researcher reported to be involved in allegations of sexual harassment — a provision Democratic staffers said Johnson declined to include in previous bills, and will likely revisit in conference should it pass on the House floor.
— About that conference: While America COMPETES is expected to pass by Friday, an inter-chamber struggle on science issues is just getting started. The House staffers highlighted several thorny areas of disagreement, including over the size and structure of a new NSF technology directorate, security provisions targeting collaborations with Chinese researchers and plans to funnel millions more in science dollars to rural areas.
Don’t call it a ‘China bill’: The House and Senate are even split over how to couch the legislation. House Science staffers said their portion of America COMPETES is “over a decade in the making,” and that they would’ve pushed these provisions with or without the current panic over China — a clear driver of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s push for USICA.
“It’s not that China isn’t a global competitor — it is,” one staffer said. “But we have many global competitors. And we have things to do at home regardless of that.”
FIRST IN MT: DEMOCRATS DEBUT EXPANDED ALGORITHMS BILL — Democrats in both chambers are out this morning with a significant overhaul of legislation empowering the FTC to mandate transparency into AI algorithms — but one data policy expert is already questioning whether the bill does enough to stop unintended consequences of new AI tools.
The new Algorithmic Accountability Act takes another shot at addressing how algorithms can upend lives when applied to things like loan applications or parole eligibility. It’s an issue that’s troubled Democrats since at least 2019, when Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.)joined withRep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) on a bill (S. 1108) with the same name but a significantly smaller scope.
— What’s new: For one thing, the sponsors. It’s not just Wyden, Booker and Clarke. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin, Bob Casey and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are all on board this time around.
There are also serious differences compared to the 2019 text, which ran just 15 pages to the new bill’s 50. Similar to the first bill, the legislation directs the FTC to collect “impact assessments” from tech companies that develop consumer-facing AI tools — and warns they’ll violate the FTC’s restrictions on unfair and deceptive practices if they fail to submit an accurate assessment.
But Wyden spokesperson Keith Chu pointed to a slew of technical improvements from the first go-around, including clarifications about which types of algorithms and companies are covered.
— Potential gaps: The new bill boasts a bunch of endorsements from privacy groups, including Fight for the Future and the Center for Democracy and Technology. But Jennifer King, a data policy researcher at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence who’s broadly supportive of the bill, highlighted holes she saw in its transparency requirements.
“[It doesn’t] sufficiently think about safety harms,” King said — like “Google Maps telling you to drive off a cliff.”
TODAY: 5G DRAMA TAKES OFF ON THE HILL — House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders will today convene the Federal Aviation Administration chief and wireless and aviation industry leaders to discuss fears that recent 5G rollouts could upend aviation safety. We’re listening for tidbits on just how we got into this interagency airwaves mess, which even entangled President Joe Biden, as well as any potential fixes.
— The agency not in the room: Although the past FCC decision to auction these 5G-friendly C-band airwaves to AT&T and Verizon (despite private FAA pushback) is a major topic, no FCC representative is slated to testify. The witness list is stacked in favor of aviation industry critics of the FCC, in line with bipartisan sentiments from committee leaders, although a witness from wireless trade group CTIA and a former FCC advisory group leader are on deck.
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel did, however, meet Wednesday with House T&I Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), her office told John. She had declined an invitation to testify due to a prior commitment, and so far the panel hasn’t taken up GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr’s offer to step in.
DeFazio will announce today the committee expects to hear from Rosenworcel at a future time.
The FCC announced the appointment of eight Tribal members to the FCC’s Native Nations Communications Task Force: Sam Cohen, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians; Marissa Merculieff, Aleut Community of St. Paul (ASCPI); Allyson Mitchell, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe; Travis Noland, Cherokee Nation; Stacey Oberly, Southern Ute Indian Tribe; Theron Rutyna, Ponca Indian Tribe of Nebraska; Teresa Taylor, Lummi Nation; and Jon Walton, Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. The FCC also announced it is partnering with the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand broadband connectivity to Tribal libraries. … The Semiconductor Industry Association announced the addition of Eric Breckenfeld and Robert Casanova as director of technology policy and director of industry statistics & economic policy, respectively. … Senior researcher Alex Hanna and software engineer Dylan Baker are leaving Google’s Ethical AI team and joining Timnit Gebru at the Distributed AI Research Institute. … Mike Saperstein, previously at USTelecom, is joining Lumos as head of government affairs and general counsel. … Ashley Sutton is now executive director for Washington and the Northwest at TechNet. She previously owned the Washington public affairs shop Agile Public Affairs. … Kasia Witkowski is now senior manager for public policy focusing on brand protection and customer trust at Amazon. She most recently was director for government relations for the Americas at HP and is an Obama HHS alum.
Mo’ Meta, mo’ problems: Profit margins at the tech company formerly known as Facebook shrank by 20 percent in Q4 of 2021 (Financial Times).
It’s hip to be square: As the rest of the world flocks to digital messaging services, Americans are still texting like it’s 2007, the New York Times reports.
Another bite at the apple: Gigi Sohn, Biden’s nominee to round out the Democrat’s FCC majority, will receive a second confirmation hearing on Feb. 9. More from John for Pros.
Move slow and don’t break things: Mark Zuckerberg is taking the cautious route while selling his new metaverse in Washington, Bloomberg reports.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]), Brendan Bordelon ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Rebecca Kern ([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.