With help from John Hendel, Thibault Larger, Steven Overly and Zach Montellaro
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— Eyeballs watching emoji: Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel holds her first open commission meeting today — the most public test yet as she auditions to permanently helm the telecom agency.
— Tackling digital inequality: As President Joe Biden tees up infrastructure as a top priority under his administration, House Energy and Commerce holds its first hearing of the new Congress on ways to close the digital divide during and after the pandemic.
— Epic’s next battleground: “Fortnite”-creator Epic Games announced this morning it is lodging an antitrust complaint against Apple in Brussels, expanding its fight against the iPhone maker to a fourth part of the world.
IT’S WEDNESDAY; WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
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TODAY’S BROADBAND DOUBLE HEADER, FROM COMMISSION TO CAPITOL — Brace for a busy morning in telecom: Rosenworcel will helm her first monthly commission meeting, with an eye toward pandemic countermeasures, at 10:30 a.m. The House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee will then hold a hearing drilling into these questions around pandemic connectivity, and what should come next, at 11 a.m.
— Between the lines: These sessions will set the stage for some of the infrastructure debate we’ll see in the coming weeks as Biden and Congress seek to hash out a potential legislative package that could include many billions more for broadband.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told the Incompas summit last week that he plans to revive a version of his $100 billion broadband proposal “hopefully within the next couple of weeks” and is talking to the White House about how to “get it to be an integral part of any infrastructure bill.”
— What to expect today out of the agency: There will likely be little disagreement among commissioners in the two FCC votes on deck, which address telecom security and 911 fee diversion, and much more focus on a trio of staff presentations about how the agency will use new appropriations cash to help connect households in need and to boost a recently-established Covid-19 Telehealth Program. Rosenworcel also plans to unveil a Broadband Data Task Force to advance efforts to improve broadband mapping.
— And what to expect today on the Hill: Watch for Democrats and Republicans to tout recent measures aimed at bridging the connectivity divide — from the billions they slated in December for the programs the FCC is discussing, to the ongoing Democratic push to slate $7.6 billion in the next round of Covid aid for FCC online learning initiatives. Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) unveiled a new bill this week that would create an FCC task force to ensure more accurate broadband mapping, and GOP members are eyeing how to remove obstacles to internet buildout.
FCC REPUBLICAN STAKES OUT NET NEUTRALITY SKEPTICISM — In a debut speech on Tuesday, Republican FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington made clear that he objects to bringing back net neutrality rules that reclassify broadband as a Title II telecom service, as the Obama-era regulations did. Even so, he told the Free State Foundation, it’s “entirely possible” he could find consensus with Democrats on potential safeguards, welcoming an open debate with all parties: “I am not bringing an unchangeably closed mind to the commission on any topic, and certainly not on the highly fraught topic of net neutrality.”
EPIC SLAPS APPLE WITH (ANOTHER) COMPETITION COMPLAINT — Epic Games, creator of the wildly popular video game “Fortnite,” filed an official complaint with the European Commission against Apple today — this time in Brussels — arguing that the American tech giant breached EU antitrust rules with its App Store and payment policies, my colleague Thibault Larger reports this morning from Europe.
— The complaint is just the latest shoe to drop in Epic’s crusade against Apple that began in the U.S. last year, Thibault reports: Epic took Apple and Google to court in the U.S. in August. It also sued Apple in Australia in November — which we covered here in MT — and in the U.K. in January over the same issue. (The charges filed this morning in Brussels, Thibault notes, are similar to those that Epic lodged against Apple and Google in the U.S. lawsuits.)
GOOGLE ANSWERS STATES’ ANTITRUST COMPLAINT — The company has responded to the multistate lawsuit, led by Colorado and Nebraska and brought in December, focused on Google’s control over the online search market: In its filing, Google “generally denies the legal claims” made in the case.
— “Google has developed, continually innovated, and promoted Google Search for use by consumers all over the world,” says the response, filed Monday night. “People use Google Search because they choose to, not because they are forced to or because they cannot easily find alternative ways to search for information on the Internet.”
TAKE NOTE, CHINA: CLOCK STOPPED ON TIKTOK — A federal judge agreed to suspend a lawsuit over former President Donald Trump’s executive order that would effectively ban video-sharing app TikTok from the U.S. Last week, the Biden team asked the court to put the legal battle on ice while the new administration reviewed its predecessor’s policies and determined whether the case was still necessary. TikTok did not oppose the request.
LOOPHOLE IN THE FACEBOOK AD BLACKOUT — The political ad blackout on Facebook continues, but at least one group slipped through. WorkMoney, a new-ish mysterious nonprofit that POLITICO reported on last year, purchased more than $100,000 worth of ads about coronavirus stimulus checks over roughly 30 days in January and February. Some of the ads targeted users in particular states: West Virginia, Maine, Alaska and Delaware. (Can anyone think of potentially influential senators in those states?) The ads appeared to have stopped on Feb. 8, a couple of days before my colleague Zach Montellaro, author of Morning Score, contacted Facebook about them running.
— Facebook said those ads ran in error: “These ads should not have run. We had already taken them down and placed them in the Ad Library for greater transparency,” the company said in a statement. “Enforcement is not perfect and we are always working to improve our systems.”
Former U.S. trade official Cara Morrow is rejoining the government today as policy director for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, after a six-month stint working on e-commerce issues for Facebook, my colleague Doug Palmer reports. … Infrastructure protection expert Nitin Natarajan has joined CISA as its No. 2 official, deputy director.
Anna Lenhart, a former TechCongress fellow in the office of Rep. David Cicilline, where she supported the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee’s investigation into tech market power, started Tuesday as senior legislative assistant on the staff of Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.). … Paloma Perez, who was previously communications director for former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), was appointed FCC press secretary in the agency’s media relations office.
Former Kellogg CFO Fareed Khan is becoming CFO of Enjoy, while former MLB CIO and CFO Jonathan Mariner is becoming chief administrative and people officer of the mobile retail tech company (and joining its board of directors).
Our post-Pizzagate online world: “The gunman who terrorized a D.C. pizzeria is out of prison. The QAnon conspiracy theories he helped unleash are out of control,” WaPo reports.
A question for Google, Facebook, et. al: “If work is going remote, why is Big Tech still building?” via WIRED.
There’s a robot for that: Hospitals are leaning on artificial intelligence to help doctors improve their bedside manners and communications skills, which patients say could be far better, WaPo reports.
More Ma, more problems: “China blocked Jack Ma’s Ant IPO after investigation revealed likely beneficiaries,” via WSJ.
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