With help from John Hendel, Leonie Cater and Mark Scott
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— Feelings on infrastructure: President Joe Biden’s $100 billion broadband proposal has the industry spooked, and Republicans are pledging to bring those concerns to Capitol Hill.
— Askin’ for it: With an Oversight Board decision nearing on whether Facebook should reinstate former President Donald Trump’s account, the company’s chief lobbyist is ramping up calls for platform regulation.
— Vive la antitrust: The U.S. and France may not see eye to eye on digital services taxes, but the head of the country’s competition agency says the powers are on the same page when it comes to antitrust.
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GOP, ISPS WARY OF BIDEN’S $100B BROADBAND GAMBIT — Biden’s proposed $100 billion broadband investments may be thrilling Democrats and consumer advocates, but the broadband industry and top Republican lawmakers are spooked, John reports. “The President’s broadband proposal opens the door for duplication and overbuilding,” cautioned Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), who as the top Republican on Senate Commerce will play a vocal role in shaping the Hill debate.
— Watch for these tensions in the coming weeks as the Hill committees digest the package. House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said the plan is “exactly what our nation needs right now.”
PLUS: WHAT’S ON TAP FOR THE FCC IN APRIL? — Jessica Rosenworcel on Wednesday outlined the agenda for her third FCC open commission meeting since Biden tapped her as the agency’s acting chair in January.
— She’ll turn commissioners’ attention back to the 988 short-code for dialing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Under former Chair Ajit Pai, the FCC ushered through votes that have the telecom industry prepping for such short-code dialing by the summer of 2022. And now? Commissioners will vote April 22 on a proposal that could pave the way for not only dialing — but also texting to — this hotline short-code.
— Other FCC votes will involve making spectrum tweaks aimed at helping to launch commercial spaceflight; sponsorship rules for foreign-backed broadcasts; and a change to rules for reporting 911 outages.
Beyond broadband land…
ALGORITHMS 101: FACEBOOK’S CHIEF LOBBYIST CALLS FOR REGULATION — The company’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, argued in a new (and lengthy) blog post that allegations of Facebook’s algorithms dividing users, creating echo chambers, rewarding provocative content and distorting the truth are in many cases missing the mark. He said people need to come to grips with how these automated systems work because social media, and data-driven personalization, aren’t going anywhere.
That, Clegg said, can be achieved through more visibility into the algorithms and government regulation of tech platforms, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he supported in his testimony last week before Congress. (The need to increase transparency into how the algorithms work was one place where the witnesses and lawmakers found common ground, and several proposals across Congress have focused on just that.)
— “Before we credit ‘the algorithm’ with too much independent judgment, it is of course the case that these systems are designed by people,” Clegg wrote. “It is Facebook’s decision makers who ultimately decide what content is acceptable on the platform. Of course, whether Facebook draws the line in the right place, or according to the right considerations, is a matter of legitimate public debate. And it is entirely reasonable to argue that private companies shouldn’t be making so many big decisions about what content is acceptable on their own. It would clearly be better if these decisions were made according to frameworks agreed by democratically accountable lawmakers.”
In the absence of regulation from Congress, Facebook is increasingly taking steps to self-regulate — including with its independent Oversight Board, which is set to release its most closely watched decision yet this month, on whether to allow Trump back on the platform. (Meanwhile, debates are escalating over just how far that suspension will go.)
— Some haven’t taken too well to Clegg’s opus: British Conservative Parliament Member Damian Collins said on Twitter that Facebook is “indifferent” to the content its users see, while advocacy group Sleeping Giants issued a challenge: “How about Facebook opens up their platform for independent researchers to take a look if it is manipulative or not?” the group tweeted. “That ought to clear things up, right?”
ANTITRUST A LA FRANCAISE: MEET ISABELLE DE SILVA — She heads France’s competition agency and has become a leading advocate for enforcement agencies taking a hard line against Big Tech. The French regulator has already fined Apple a record $1.3 billion, issued Google a separate $176 million levy, and is reviewing the search engine’s recent agreement with French publishers to pay them whenever their content appears on Google. “I have a strong conviction that enforcers must not be weak,” she told POLITICO’s transatlantic tech newsletter, Digital Bridge.
— Penny for your thoughts on America? De Silva praised renewed U.S. efforts to bring the likes of Google and Facebook to heel. She argued that Washington and European capitals shared the same vision for how to regulate the digital world and said French antitrust officials continued to work with their U.S. colleagues — including on complaints filed against Apple recently over how it allowed third-party companies to access people’s data via their smartphones. (De Silva recently ruled in Apple’s favor in a French case linked to the privacy revamp.)
“It’s very encouraging, but it’s not a revolution,” she said about Washington’s antitrust push. “Within the agencies — the DOJ and FTC — a lot of good work has been made on the digital cases in the same spirit as in Europe.”
The U.S. government endorsed Doreen Bogdan-Martin to serve as the next Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union (and the first woman to do so). Rosenworcel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo were among the officials who endorsed her directly.
Former Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly joins The Media Institute today as a senior fellow and member of the organization’s First Amendment Advisory Council. … TechNet welcomed Byte, Carta and Warburg Pincus as new members.
US Ignite is awarding grants to these communities as part of Project OVERCOME, a $2.7 million initiative created and funded by the National Science Foundation “to connect the unconnected” through innovations in broadband. Schmidt Futures, co-founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, is also supporting the effort. … DoorDash announced the 100 restaurateurs participating in its Main Street Accelerator program, a project focused on supporting local restaurants across New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta that have struggled during the pandemic.
Should we be worried about the deepfake “Amazon workers” on Twitter? MIT Technology Review says yes: “The accounts are likely just parodies, not part of a sinister corporate strategy, but they illustrate the kind of thing that could happen someday.”
But some of Amazon’s defenders on Twitter were very real, and well-trained: “Amazon ambassadors were trained to defend Jeff Bezos and clap back at Bernie Sanders under a program codenamed ‘Veritas,’” The Intercept reports.
To those who pulled the plug on Parler: “Two top Republican lawmakers demanded information from Google, Apple and Amazon on Wednesday over their takedowns of Parler in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot,” Cristiano reports.
Podcast OTD: The latest episode of “TBD: Technology By Design,” a podcast hosted by Matt Perault, director of Duke’s Center on Science & Technology Policy, pulls back the curtain on the Apple-Facebook feud over the iPhone maker’s latest operating system updates.
First, JEDI. Now: “Microsoft wins U.S. Army contract for augmented reality headsets, worth up to $21.9 billion over 10 years,” per CNBC.
Eyeballs watching emoji: “Madison Cawthorn wants to get the GOP on Twitch. Will it work?” via WaPo.
How much do Americans trust Silicon Valley? That — and how much they trust Wall Street, the U.S. government and other institutions — in a new Morning Consult survey out this morning.
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