With help from Julia Arciga and John Hendel
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— Celebrating infrastructure week: MT is here to fill you in on the Senate’s massive infrastructure package, which is set to pass the upper chamber this week.
— Help wanted: Though progressives are satisfied with the nomination of Jonathan Kanter to head the DOJ antitrust division, they say the Biden administration still isn’t ready to rein in the big tech companies.
— Waiting for Microsoft: In the latest development of a DOJ antitrust case against Google, lawyers for the search giant say Microsoft, whose documents could aid in Google’s defense, is stalling.
IT’S AN AUGUST MONDAY IN WASHINGTON. TAKE IT EASY AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your guest host, Emily Birnbaum, refreshed and revived after a week in Vermont. (Have you heard there’s lots of trees there?) I’ll be handling the newsletter this week while your regular host Benjamin Din is out.
INFRASTRUCTURE BILL TEXT, HOT OFF THE PRESSES — Nearly everyone in the tech and telecom policy worlds is leafing through the Senate’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan this morning, taking stock of the provisions aimed at closing the digital divide, making internet access more affordable, improving research into emerging technology and more. Here are the tech- and telecom-related provisions you should pay attention to.
Broadband affordability — Democratic offices fought over the weekend to bulk up the affordability provisions of the $65 billion broadband title, a Democrat familiar with the negotiations told John. Some offices had wanted to see more resources devoted to the proposed monthly internet subsidy for low-income households, stronger transparency requirements around broadband pricing and more cash for the Commerce Department funds devoted to “middle mile” internet infrastructure (which covers non-consumer projects like underseas cables).
The Democrats apparently notched a win on that last ask — the “middle mile” funds doubled from $500 million in an earlier draft to $1 billion in the final version of the legislation.
The legislation would also allocate about $42.5 billion (a bit more than the $40 billion previously proposed) to the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, which would dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to each state.
Count one for the Manchins — The infrastructure package, which was negotiated in part by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va), also specifically provides broadband equity funds to the Appalachian Regional Commission — a group co-chaired by Manchin’s wife, Gayle.
Cryptocurrency woes — The crypto community is stressing out over provisions in the legislation that would crack down on cryptocurrency transactions, a move that could provide billions of dollars in tax revenue to the government. Crypto hawks say the new rules could damage the viability of cryptocurrency markets, according to the latest from POLITICO’s Kellie Mejdrich and Brian Faler. A group of 12 regional blockchain associations in a statement warned the provision could even “risk driving jobs overseas, and strike at the heart of innovation.”
And they have an ally in Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “Americans avoiding paying the taxes they owe through cryptocurrency is a real problem that deserves a real solution,” he tweeted on Sunday — but “the Republican provision in the bipartisan infrastructure framework isn’t close to being that solution. It’s an attempt to apply brick and mortar rules to the internet and fails to understand how the technology works.”
Emerging technology — The legislation would fund a research pilot program, to be established by the secretary of Transportation, specifically to focus on autonomous vehicles. The legislation would set aside $5 million for the program every year between 2022 and 2026.
THE CLOCK’S TICKING — Progressives were elated by President Joe Biden’s nomination of Kanter, a noted tech skeptic . But a coalition of more than 20 digital rights advocacy groups wrote to Biden on Monday, arguing that he’ll need to make several more tough hires if he wants to build an administration that can properly take on tech giants, according to a copy provided to MT.
Biden has yet to select a principal deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust at DOJ, a fifth FCC commissioner, a director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or a leader of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to name a few. “Your administration and allies in the House and Senate will face stiff resistance and intense lobbying from some of the most well-resourced and powerful corporations in history,” the groups, including the American Economic Liberties Project and Demand Progress, wrote. “It is essential that you continue in the pattern of your most recent decision to nominate Mr. Kanter, by choosing the public’s interest in real reform and aggressive antitrust enforcement over these corporations’ interest in extending the status quo indefinitely.”
They’re also calling for specific policy measures, including a policy that senior officials previously hired by big tech companies recuse themselves from antitrust enforcement matters related to those companies. The Biden administration has already hired a slew of officials who have previously worked for the major tech companies.
MICROSOFT IS GOOGLE’S ‘ANTAGONIST’ IN DOJ ANTITRUST SUIT — In a Friday update on a lawsuit filed by DOJ and states that accused Google of abusing its place at the forefront of the online search market, lawyers for Google claimed that Microsoft was stalling on handing over millions of documents about its efforts to compete with Google’s search engine. It’s the latest instance of Google and Microsoft fighting publicly this year, after breaking their longtime detente.
In this round, Google argued that Microsoft — which has been identified as Google’s “most significant competitor in online search” by DOJ and the states, and which Google referred to as the “central” third party in the case — has slow-walked producing documents from 19 former and current Microsoft employees about whether Google’s dominance “restrained” Microsoft from competing with it, “or whether [Microsoft] simply failed to compete successfully on the merits,” according to the subpoena.
TL;DR: Google’s point, essentially, is that Microsoft’s competing search engine, Bing, didn’t take off because it wasn’t very good — not because a monopolistic Google blocked it out of the search market. If that argument stands, it would help to nullify the antitrust case against Google.
The Microsoft employees’ files are “obviously relevant” to the current case against Google, a counsel for Google told Judge Amit Mehta on Friday, adding that Microsoft was the “primary antagonist in the story.”
Mehta seemed to side with Google during Friday’s proceeding, stating Microsoft’s efforts thus far were not “earnest” efforts to turn over documents and Google’s request materials from the 19 individuals met the “general definition of relevancy.”
What’s next — The judge declined to rule on the dispute on Friday, but said both parties would need to give him more information about Google’s request in the coming weeks, with a ruling on the issue possible if Google and Microsoft remain at an impasse.
Jordan Humphreys, who previously worked in external relations at IBM, will head policy-focused marketing for Facebook’s news program. … Matt Handverger, previously press secretary for Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), will be communications director for Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.). … Christopher Williams will join Perkins Cole’s commercial litigation practice in its Antitrust & Unfair Competition Litigation practice group as a partner in the Washington, D.C. office. … Brian Miller, formerly chief people officer at Impossible Foods, will be Adobe’s chief talent, diversity and inclusion officer. … Liz Kennedy, formerly senior policy adviser at the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, will serve as Facebook’s manager of voting rights. … Aadil Ginwala was named chief of staff for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. … Allan Friedman, director of cybersecurity initiatives as NTIA, will join the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Surveillance on the run: The search for a couple accused of arson during the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis exposes an expanding global surveillance system, the New York Times reports.
Tracking Googles’ reach: A New Statesman investigation found that six leading academic institutes in the European Union have taken tens of millions of pounds of funding from Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft to research tech issues.
Rejecting ‘Unjected’: “A new social app designed as a community for the unvaccinated is testing Google and Apple’s policies concerning the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines,” according to Bloomberg News.
ICYMI: The lead economics expert in the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust suit against Facebook, Carl Shapiro, has parted ways with the agency, Leah reports.
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