Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden appointed Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor known for his calls to break up large tech companies, to the White House National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy. The role is a new one for the council, where Wu will focus not only on tech but on competition in labor policy and the concentration of power in the agriculture and drug industries. (The New York Times)
  • The Senate version of the latest COVID-19 relief package includes nearly $2 billion for federal cybersecurity and technology modernization programs, with $1 billion set aside for the General Service Administration’s Technology Modernization Fund, $650 million dedicated to the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency’s risk mitigation services and $200 million for the U.S. Digital Service. The funds come as the United States continues to evaluate the damage from the monthslong SolarWinds cyberattack on the federal government and private sector. (The Hill)
  • The European Union is expected to bring charges against Apple Inc. following its investigation of a complaint filed two years ago by Spotify Technology SA, according to several people familiar with the case. The charges will be the culmination of several EU antitrust probes into Apple that stemmed from Spotify’s complaint regarding the App Store’s 30 percent fee for in-app purchases. (Financial Times)
  • Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith is expected to testify during a House antitrust subcommittee hearing next Friday focusing on the tech industry’s impact on the news media, according to sources familiar with the matter. The hearing is part of the subcommittee’s series of tech antitrust hearings this spring following its yearlong investigation into Big Tech and competition. (Axios)

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Reinforce AI conference
German Marshall Fund virtual event: “Changes in U.S. and EU Cyber Policy: Cooperation, Convergence, or Competition?” 10:30 am
Harvard Business School’s tech conference
IAB’s annual leadership meeting – virtual
IAB’s annual leadership meeting – virtual
Financial Times’ future workforce virtual summit
Senate Banking Committee hearing on GameStop, Robinhood, and the state of retail investing 10:00 am
Aspen Institute’s virtual event on internet blackouts 12:00 pm
Open RAN Policy Coalition’s virtual event with FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel 3:00 pm
IAB’s annual leadership meeting – virtual
VentureBeat’s virtual event on private 5G networks 10:00 am
House Appropriations Committee hearing on modernizing the federal civilian approach to cyber 10:00 am
Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing on antitrust reform in the 21st century 10:00 am
WSJ’s virtual event on the future of Privacy Shield 1:00 pm
Internet Innovation Alliance virtual chat with FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks about closing the digital divide 2:00 pm
View full calendar

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U.S. Senate mulls $30 billion in funding to boost chipmaking sector, source says
Alexandra Alper, Reuters

The U.S. Senate is considering including $30 billion in funding for a previously approved package of measures aimed at supercharging the country’s chipmaking industry, a congressional source involved in the effort said on Thursday. Lawmakers would seek to bring the package, which would include other elements aimed at countering China and boosting the U.S. tech sector, to a full vote in April, the person said, declining to be named because the legislation has not been finalized.

Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China
Maggie Miller, The Hill

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and a coalition of bipartisan senators on Thursday introduced legislation intended to help the U.S. create international partnerships on emerging technologies to better compete with China. The Democracy Technology Partnership Act would create an interagency office at the State Department tasked with coordinating partnerships among the U.S. and other democratic countries to promote research and set standards around emerging technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G and semiconductors.

China ramps up tech commitment in 5-year plan, eyes 7% boost in R&D spend
Josh Horwitz et al., Reuters

China will increase its annual research and development spending by more than 7% every year over the next five years, the government wrote on Friday in its work report from the Fourth Session of the 13th National People’s Congress. The government will increase expenditure on basic research by 10.6% in 2021, the report added.

Drivers Are Protesting a Proposition 22 Clone In Massachusetts
Edward Ongweso Jr, Motherboard

On Thursday, app-based drivers are rallying at the Massachusetts State House in opposition to a bill that they say is a clone of Prop 22, the California ballot initiative funded by gig companies that carved out an exemption from following state labor laws. Massachusetts Bill HD2582, also known as “An Act establishing portable benefit accounts for app-based drivers,” ostensibly provides portable benefits for app-based drivers, but includes a few additional sections which workers say will offer scraps instead of rights and benefits drivers need.

Microsoft’s $10 Billion Pentagon Deal at Risk Amid Amazon Fight
Naomi Nix, Bloomberg

Microsoft Corp. is in danger of losing a contract to provide $10 billion of cloud computing services to the Pentagon, a deal the government has threatened to scrap altogether after years of legal squabbling. The U.S. Defense Department said it will reconsider the controversial procurement if a federal judge declines to dismiss Inc.’s allegations that former President Donald Trump’s meddling cost the company the winner-take-all contract.

Broadcom CEO Says Demand Is ‘Real’ as Chip Orders Flood In
Ian King, Bloomberg

Broadcom Inc. Chief Executive Officer Hock Tan said customers are beefing up semiconductor orders at an unprecedented pace and tried to quell concern that this will create a glut later on. “We see customers accelerating the bookings for early deliveries and attempting to build buffers and creating the demand-supply imbalance you all hear out there,” Tan told analysts during an earnings conference call on Thursday.

When Amazon Raises Wages, Local Companies Follow Suit
Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley, The New York Times

Amazon has embarked on an advertising blitz this winter, urging Congress to follow the company’s lead and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. American workers “simply can’t wait” for higher pay, the company said in a recent blog post. In the areas where Amazon operates, though, low-wage workers at other businesses have seen significant wage growth since 2018, beyond what they otherwise might have expected, and not because of new minimum-wage laws.

Intellectual Property and Antitrust

Square acquires majority of Tidal, Jay-Z’s streaming service, in $297 million deal.
Katherine Rosman, The New York Times

What did Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey talk about when they went yachting around the Hamptons together last summer? Perhaps only Beyoncé knows.

Telecom, Wireless and TV

Senators call on FCC to quadruple base high-speed internet speeds
Makena Kelly, The Verge

The federal government’s definition of high-speed broadband has remained stagnant over the last six years, sitting at 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up since 2015. But faced with pandemic-fueled network loads and a new push for infrastructure spending, lawmakers are getting ready to upgrade that definition. In a letter to government leaders Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators called for a quadrupling of base high-speed broadband delivery speeds making 100Mbps down and 100Mbps up the new base for high-speed broadband.

T-Mobile saw Verizon telling people to turn off 5G and thought ‘why stop there’
Mitchell Clark, The Verge

T-Mobile has been busy hawking its 5G network, recently spending many additional billions to expand it, which makes it kinda awkward that it’s also been caught telling users to turn off 5G to save battery life (via Sascha Segan). Didn’t Verizon just make this same gaff mere days ago? It sure did. But instead of learning from the example, T-Mobile appears to have pulled a hold-my-beer: where Verizon told users to switch to LTE, many of T-Mobile’s support documents tell users to go all the way back to 2G.

How Dish plans to outfox AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to build the cheapest 5G network
Aaron Pressman, Fortune

Antitrust regulators who approved last year’s T-Mobile–Sprint merger are counting on Dish Network, long known for its satellite TV service, to maintain competition in the wireless market as the new fourth player.

Yes, you are getting lots of robocalls again
Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN

After a year of relief, robocalls are back up to pre-pandemic levels. Americans received more than 4.6 billion robocalls in February, up 15% compared to January, according to new data from YouMail, a robocall-prevention service that tracks robocall traffic across the United States. About 159.1 million robocalls were placed each day last month.

Mobile Technology and Social Media

YouTube CEO says the platform will lift Trump’s suspension when risk of violence drops
Lauren Feiner, CNBC

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said Thursday that the platform will lift the suspension on former President Donald Trump’s account once the risk of violence declines. The Google-owned video sharing site first suspended the account on Jan. 12, nearly a week after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers sought to certify President Joe Biden’s election win. Facebook and Twitter had earlier suspended Trump’s accounts, citing the risk of further violence.

Scores of political groups sidestepped Facebook’s ad ban
Mark Scott and Zach Montellaro, Politico

Political campaigns are cheering the return of political ads to Facebook this week. But some groups never stopped running them. Scores of right- and left-wing political groups purchased tens of thousands of dollars in political ads that broke the company’s rules between January and March this year, according to an analysis by POLITICO.

Threats of a QAnon-fueled March 4 attack create disruptions but little trouble. Researchers say police overreacted.
Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

As the House of Representatives canceled its session amid reported threats to the Capitol on Thursday, researchers who had warned of trouble ahead of the Jan. 6 siege found themselves scratching their heads. If something was brewing, they said, it was much smaller, quieter and less obviously violent than what they had reported two months ago — when they had struggled to get authorities to take their warnings seriously.

Google Crushed Many Digital Ad Rivals. But a Challenger Is Rising.
Patience Haggin, The Wall Street Journal

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has crushed almost all its competitors in the world of digital-advertising technology. But one rival is emerging as the best hope to challenge the tech giant—if it manages to keep up its momentum. The Trade Desk Inc., which specializes in helping companies buy online ads across publishers’ websites, did what others failed at: eating into Google’s share of the market.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

White House says closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch
Eric Beech, Reuters

The White House is closely tracking an emergency patch Microsoft Corp has released, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday, after an unknown hacking group recently broke into organizations using a flaw in the company’s mail server software. “We are closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch for previously unknown vulnerabilities in Exchange Server software and reports of potential compromises of U.S. think tanks and defense industrial base entities,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said on Twitter.

Watchdog Warns of Weak Cybersecurity in DOD Weapons Contracts
Alyza Sebenius, Bloomberg

A government watchdog warned that the U.S. military has failed to adequately include cybersecurity provisions in contracts for acquiring weapons systems. The Government Accountability Office, which reports to Congress, “found examples of program contracts omitting cybersecurity requirements, acceptance criteria or verification processes,” according to a Thursday report, which studied five representative contracts.

State efforts likely to prod Congress on privacy
Ashley Gold and Margaret Harding McGill, Axios

In the absence of uniform federal rules, states across the U.S. have ramped up online privacy legislation, which could in turn push Congress to pass its own law faster and with tougher provisions. Driving the news: Virginia became the second state to enact a consumer privacy law this week. A number of other states are working on similar bills.

China and Russia’s Spying Sprees Will Take Years to Unpack
Brian Barrett, Wired

First it was Solarwinds, a reportedly Russian hacking campaign that stretches back almost a year, and has felled at least nine US government agencies and countless private companies. Now it’s Hafnium, a Chinese group that’s been attacking a vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange Server to sneak into victims’ email inboxes and beyond. The collective toll of these espionage sprees is still being uncovered. It may never be fully known.

Biden’s Pick For Defense Policy Chief Outlines Cyber Deterrence Position
Mila Jasper, Nextgov

In between heated questions from Republican senators about tweets and arguments over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, President Joe Biden’s pick for undersecretary of Defense for policy called for a layered approach to tackle growing threats in the cyber realm. Colin Kahl, who previously served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and national security adviser to Biden during the Obama administration, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday regarding his nomination for the Pentagon’s top policy position.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Congress Must Prioritize Digital Infrastructure in Infrastructure Package
James Hayes and Tom Gann, Morning Consult

Last week’s congressional hearing on SolarWinds is yet another reminder of how the past year has exposed major vulnerabilities within our digital infrastructure. We are just beginning to understand the full scope and scale of this cyberattack, but to prevent something like this from happening again, we must make critical investments to shore up our cyber posture.

Influencers Are the New Televangelists
Leigh Stein, The New York Times

On Instagram, I follow 700 people, mostly women. One hundred of those women follow Glennon Doyle, whose memoir “Untamed” has been on the Times best-seller list for 51 weeks. Fans of Ms. Doyle’s gospel, an accessible combination of self-care, activism and tongue-in-cheek Christianity (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for he gave me Lexapro”), can worship at any time of day or night at the electric church of her Instagram feed.

A Chip Problem of Detroit’s Own Making
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, The Wall Street Journal

American auto makers face a shortage of computer chips, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow blames the “decision” of “a single company in Taiwan, which has reduced its shipments.” That statement is both incorrect and misleading. Sen. Stabenow’s demagoguery of a foreign company stops the U.S. from meeting the challenge of getting American auto workers back to work.

Research Reports

A Prime Target: The Attack on Amazon in an Age of Weaponized Antitrust
Chris Marchese and Trace Mitchell, NetChoice

Amazon got its start in 1994 when a relatively young Jeff Bezos moved to Seattle and launched from a corner in his garage. For years the site was nothing more than an online boutique bookstore. But Amazon bet big that online shopping would one day be just as popular as shopping in malls and invested heavily in making that a reality.

Morning Consult