With help from 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.
— Hill watch: House lawmakers take up a bevy of bills today aimed at solving public safety communications issues — particularly during crises like natural disasters and 911 emergencies.
— The scope of rip-and-replace: The FCC started collecting data to help the agency assess how much Huawei and ZTE gear is already embedded in U.S. infrastructure.
— Surveillance backlash builds: More than 150 faculty members and academics from colleges across the country are backing a student-led campaign fighting the potential rollout of facial recognition on campuses.
HAPPY THURSDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH! I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
Got a news tip? Write Alex at email@example.com or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.
TODAY: HOUSE E&C TAKES ON PUBLIC SAFETY — Get ready: Energy and Commerce’s telecom subcommittee is considering eight bills this morning for a legislative hearing, all dealing one way or another with how to “strengthen communications networks to help Americans in crisis.” The bills aim to help enhance the emergency alert system, ensure wireless network resiliency, secure a shortcode for the national suicide hotline and help safeguard some public safety airwaves set for an FCC auction next year.
— Witnesses include wireless industry trade group CTIA, 911 association the National Emergency Number Association, and the fire chief of Santa Clara, Calif. — where wildfires not long ago wreaked havoc on communications.
— One outstanding question is how panel Republicans may respond to some of the Democrat-led measures focused on shoring up network durability. “There’s all kinds of things people want to require,” Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told John earlier this week. “Some of them work better than others.” For his part, he’s ready to talk about a measure he’s offering that aims to stop state officials from diverting 911 fees for non-911 purposes: “The fee diversion one is one I feel pretty strong about.”
THUNE TO UNVEIL 5G WORKFORCE PLAN — Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce telecom subcommittee, unveils his Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act today. The measure is aimed at helping the U.S. catch up on the workforce demands of the 5G era (the U.S. is tens of thousands of workers short of meeting current 5G infrastructure demands, as John reported in December). Thune’s bill, which is expected to be bipartisan, would compel the Labor Department to coordinate with the FCC chief in creating an interagency working group to develop recommendations for fostering this workforce, including identifying federal incentives. The Labor secretary would also have to issue workforce guidance to states, and the GAO would have to study 5G workforce needs. Here’s the bill text for Pros.
SLICING UP THE AIRWAVES — Reps. Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) are siding with the wireless industry and asking FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to reserve a portion of the 6 GHz airwaves for auctioning off spectrum for licensed use, according to a copy of a Wednesday letter obtained by John. The two Energy and Commerce members emphasized the importance of 5G-friendly mid-band spectrum and said the FCC should “consider the feasibility of licensing a portion of the 6 GHz band in a timely manner.”
— The lobbying battle here is between wireless heavyweights and a mix of cable and tech giants, given that the latter would strongly prefer the FCC save the whole 6 GHz band for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi. Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) pushed this view in a recent letter. The utilities that occupy these airwaves, meanwhile, worry about potential disruption from opening the band at all.
ROOTING OUT HUAWEI — The FCC on Wednesday kicked off its data collection process to assess how much gear from China’s Huawei and ZTE may be sitting around in American networks. The FCC voted to designate those two companies as security threats late last year, an action the commission said may become final this spring.
— Given that timeline, “we are moving forward quickly to identify where equipment and services from these suppliers are embedded in our communications networks and, where they do have a foothold, to be in a position to help remove them,” Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.
— And remember: The Senate may be on the verge of approving money to help replace the Chinese equipment, a measure that Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker told John was on track as of Tuesday.
CAN WE GET A BROADBAND SUBSIDY HERE? — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) led eight other senators in a bipartisan letter pressing the Agriculture Department on what it called an arbitrary rule getting in the way of rural broadband deployment. USDA, these lawmakers said, has prevented any of its $600 million in ReConnect subsidy dollars from going to areas served by an earlier FCC program.
— “USDA can, and should, fix this,” they wrote. “USDA is neither statutorily required to eliminate FCC grant recipients from ReConnect eligibility, nor does it consider satellite service as sufficient broadband service for the purposes of awarding ReConnect funding.” USDA didn’t comment on Wyden’s letter.
ABOUT THAT ALGORITHM SORTING YOUR 2020 CAMPAIGN EMAILS — Reporting from the newly launched site The Markup unpacking how Google algorithms affect Gmail’s handling of presidential candidates’ mass campaign emails generated reaction from across the tech world on Wednesday. House Judiciary antitrust Chairman David Cicilline, who is nearing the end of a probe into the power of Silicon Valley giants, tweeted that “the power that tech platforms have to influence our elections is staggering.” Roger McNamee, author of “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe,” echoed that support, alleging that “Gmail has its thumb in the scale.”
— What they found: The Markup said it set up a new Gmail account and “subscribed to receive emails from more than 200 political groups,” including presidential campaigns. On average, it said, only 11 percent of those emails “made it to the primary inbox, the first one a user sees when opening Gmail.”
— But not all the presidential hopefuls got equal treatment when it came to landing on this prime turf, the site wrote: “Pete Buttigieg is leading at 63 percent. Andrew Yang came in second at 46 percent. And Elizabeth Warren looks like she’s in trouble with 0 percent.”
— What does it mean that tech-friendly Buttigieg fared well, but tech-antagonist Warren did poorly? Can’t quite say. But while The Markup’s experiment is not definitive, it drives home just how much algorithms can subtly influence our politics. The report could also give fuel to accusations that tech platforms and datasets are ideologically or inherently biased — a criticism that began with allegations from conservatives but that liberals (and Democratic presidential candidates including Warren) have raised as well.
FACULTY JOIN FACIAL RECOGNITION FIGHT — More than 150 faculty members and academics at American colleges and universities have signed on to a student-led campaign opposing potential plans to roll out facial recognition on campuses.
— “We believe it is our duty to protect our campuses as learning environments where our students, fellow staff, and community members are safe, and that the constant surveillance of facial recognition threatens our human rights and privacy,” they wrote in a letter to campus administrators. “Students should not have to trade their right to safety and privacy for an education.” Among the signatories are current and former educators from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, NYU and GWU.
— Activists from Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which along with Fight for the Future has been leading the charge protesting potential uses of the technology at higher education institutions, plan to mobilize in a National Day of Action on Monday.
Jason Droege, the head of Uber’s food-delivery business, is leaving the company; Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, the head of Uber Eats’ international rides business, will succeed him. … Susan Doniz, chief information officer for Qantas Group, will in May become Boeing’s chief information officer and senior vice president of information technology and data analytics; she succeeds Vishwa Uddanwadiker.
Coronavirus watch: How the fast-spreading problem is weakening China’s powerful propaganda machine, via NYT.
A blow to Prager University: A California federal appeals court rejected the conservative nonprofit’s First Amendment suit against YouTube, ruling that privately run tech platforms can block material as they see fit, POLITICO reports.
#BTS with Apple: Apple shareholders “defeated a proposal critical of its removal of apps at the request of the Chinese government,” Reuters reports. The proposal called on the iPhone maker to “report whether it has ‘publicly committed to respect freedom of expression as a human right.’”
Protesting product placement: The Hollywood director behind “Knives Out” and “The Last Jedi” said Apple won’t let the bad guys in movies use iPhones, The Verge reports.
Look-ahead to Super Tuesday: “Issa’s Congressional Comeback Comes Down to Trump Loyalty Test,” via Bloomberg Government.
Tech for good: Governments are leaning on AI to help them detect tax evasion, WSJ reports.
Food for thought: Should robots have a face? NYT
Google’s a-growin’: Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $10 billion in investments for the company’s offices and data centers across the country, creating thousands of jobs across facilities in 26 states.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King (email@example.com, @bkingdc), Mike Farrell (firstname.lastname@example.org, @mikebfarrell), Nancy Scola (email@example.com, @nancyscola), Steven Overly (firstname.lastname@example.org, @stevenoverly), John Hendel (email@example.com, @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima (firstname.lastname@example.org, @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine (email@example.com, @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen (firstname.lastname@example.org, @leah_nylen).