With help from Samuel Stolton and Leah Nylen
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— All together now: Top officials at the State Department will meet today with an EU delegation to coordinate ways to push back against Russia’s disinformation campaign on Ukraine.
— Sinematic: Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — likely the key vote on Gigi Sohn’s nomination to serve on the Federal Communications Commission — had some tough questions about Sohn’s promise to recuse herself from broadcast issues.
— That’s a threat: EU antitrust head Margrethe Vestager is calling out Apple for its ongoing dispute with a Dutch regulator, claiming such behavior won’t be tolerated under the burgeoning Digital Markets Act.
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DISARMING PUTIN’S DISINFO MACHINE: According to a draft agenda seen by Samuel Stolton, our colleague across the Atlantic, a delegation from the European Parliament will break bread today with top officials at the U.S Department of State over Russian disinformation campaigns targeting Ukraine and its allies. Among the State Department attendees: Leah Bray (the head of the anti-disinformation Global Engagement Center), Kara McDonald (the department’s chief on democracy and human rights) and Camille Dawson (the department head of East Asian and Pacific affairs).
Topics slated for discussion include avenues for U.S.-EU cooperation in tackling fake news — including potential sanctions over disinformation — along with, more broadly, how Western democracies can counter rising authoritarianism worldwide.
— Transatlantic clampdown: “The information warfare from Putin’s Russia is extremely serious,” Vladimír Bilčík, a Slovak politician leading this week’s delegation to Washington, told Samuel. Bilčík said Western allies must “systematically” defend one another against information warfare coordinated by the Kremlin.
“The best answer is to stay united,” Bilčík said. “United in Europe … But also with our transatlantic partners, especially the United States.”
— Calling out the tech industry: Bilčík said major social media platforms must respond to the hypersensitive geopolitical situation and clamp down quickly on the spread of malicious and misleading information. “The most effective way of doing this is to regulate the social platforms,” Bilčík said, praising the EU’s Digital Services Act, which he said will help slow and prevent the spread of disinformation by reining in specific uses of algorithms. Bilčík said he will share more information on that effort with his U.S. counterparts today.
IN NEW QUESTIONS, SINEMA ZEROES IN ON SOHN RECUSAL: Sinema — widely seen as the key swing vote in the Biden administration’s quest to confirm Sohn as the third Democrat at the FCC — has finally (sort of) weighed in on Sohn’s promise to recuse herself from certain television broadcast copyright and retransmission issues.
In questions for the record, which stemmed from Sohn’s unusual second confirmation hearing on Feb. 9 and were released on Tuesday, Sinema — who did not attend the hearing — repeatedly asks Sohn about her recusal promise. (Sohn pledged to recuse herself because she had been on the board of Locast, a nonprofit streaming service found by a court to be violating broadcast copyright laws).
“Will this recusal negatively impact the Commission’s ability to regulate in this industry?” Sinema asked. The senator also pressed Sohn on why the nominee felt she didn’t need to recuse herself from regulation of other industries, in light of this specific recusal. (Other industries have clamored for their own recusals, suggesting it’s not fair that just one industry gets a pass).
Given its limited scope, Sohn said, she does not believe her recusal will impact the FCC’s ability to regulate the broadband industry. She also pushed back on Sinema’s implication that other industries may deserve their own recusal from Sohn’s regulatory and oversight authorities.
“Those who are seeking such recusals are effectively saying that I should be recused from everything and anything I’ve ever advocated for or against,” Sohn wrote. “The result would be an FCC populated by members with no background in communications law and policy,” she added.
— Sinema fever: In his own written questions to Sohn, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, referenced a billboard purchased in Phoenix, Arizona by progressive tech group Fight for the Future that accused Sinema of being corrupt because of her stance on net neutrality.
“Do you believe Senator Sinema is corrupt?” asked Wicker — a line of questioning repeated by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). Sohn said she does not believe Sinema is corrupt and that she disagreed with Fight for the Future’s tactics in this instance.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment.
— On a knife’s edge: Both the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate as a whole are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. If Republicans vote as a bloc against Sohn (and they likely will), she will need support from every Democrat — including Sinema — to both advance out of committee and come out ahead in a final floor vote.
EU’S VESTAGER WARNS OF ‘SHARP TOOLS’ IF TECH GIANTS DON’T COMPLY — The European Commission’s top competition official singled out Apple over its failure to comply with a decision by the Netherlands that would force it to open up its app store, warning that European Union officials will aggressively enforce rules meant to rein in the power of tech giants.
“We have increasingly sharp tools … if there [are] not the proper responses,” Vestager said when asked Tuesday how the EU would handle similar noncompliance by Apple. In remarks made at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, she said the EU’s draft Digital Markets Act will impose similar requirements Europe-wide on the iPhone-maker once the law goes into effect next year.
Vestagar added that if any company “goes rogue” like Apple, the EU will “eventually” have the tools to order a breakup of the company.
— Dutch microcosm: Vestager’s not-so-veiled threat comes as Apple continues to dispute a mandate imposed by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, which requires the smartphone giant to allow Dutch dating apps to use alternate payment methods to the one provided by Apple. The company says it’s working to provide alternate options to those app developers — but the ACM has so far rejected Apple’s fixes, and has fined the tech giant $5.7 million each of the last five weeks for continued noncompliance.
“Apple prefers to pay periodic fines than comply with the decision of the Dutch competition authority,” Vestager said.
— That’s pretty sharp: The EU’s original DMA draft called for fines of up to 10 percent of a company’s global revenue. But European negotiators have since increased potential fines to up to 20 percent. The negotiators also granted EU enforcers the authority to impose additional penalties or restrictions for “systemic non-compliance” — powers that could give a company like Apple pause before it disputes future antitrust mandates.
FIRST IN MT — NEW COALITION SEEKS ‘EQUITY’ THROUGH SPECTRUM FUNDS: A coalition of nine progressive tech groups is today launching a new effort that aims to repurpose money raised in future spectrum auctions to boost efforts around digital literacy and inclusion.
In a press release, the new “Airwaves for Equity” coalition calls on Congress to set aside a “substantial portion” of the money raised by the FCC in its spectrum auctions to provide sustainable funding for a “Digital Equity Foundation,” which among other things would support efforts to provide telehealth and improved internet accessibility for marginalized communities.
The FCC’s authority to auction spectrum expires in September, and congressional reauthorization could include new provisions specifying where the money should go.
— Extra boost: The new infrastructure law already provides more than $60 billion for broadband buildouts across the nation. But Michael Calabrese, head of the wireless future project at New America’s Open Technology Institute, said those efforts “will fall short if people don’t know how to use technology or cannot tap its value for their most basic needs.”
— The gang’s all here: In addition to OTI, other members of the new coalition include the American Library Association, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the Center for Rural Strategies, Common Sense Media, Consumer Reports, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Public Knowledge and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.
— Competing causes? The coalition is launching one day after FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel called on Congress to channel money from spectrum auctions to assist the transition to next-generation 911 systems.
Joshua Soven, formerly an antitrust partner at Wilson Sonsini, has joined Paul Weiss as a partner. … Brian Albrecht is the new chief economist at the International Center for Law and Economics. … Juan M. Londoño is the new AR/VR policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
First in MT: Neighborhood app Nextdoor releases its first-ever annual transparency report, which includes information on government requests for information posted on the app.
Tiptoe through the tulips: The New York Times explains why Apple is so concerned by its ongoing standoff with the Dutch antitrust authorities (enjoy the fever-dream graphic!).
Put FirstNet first: The Government Accountability Office releases a report calling on Congress to prioritize legislation reauthorizing FirstNet — a nationwide broadband network for first responders — before the statutory sunset date in 2027 “to ensure network continuity.”
ICYMI: A new bill from Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and other Democrats aims to create a bureau at the Federal Trade Commission to investigate social media platforms’ handling of illegal and discriminatory content on their sites, Rebecca reports for Pros.
Also relevant: NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights issues a report that calls for legislation to increase the FTC’s oversight of social media companies — just as Trahan’s bill would do.
We all knew this was coming: Yes, you can now own “POTUS Trump NFTs,” courtesy of right-wing social media platform Parler.
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