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Today's newsletter is 1,329 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Internet prices kick off Washington brawl

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

President Biden's promise to cut the price of Americans' internet bills has provoked a fierce lobbying campaign by cable and telecom companies to prove that the cost of broadband has already dropped, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Internet providers are desperate to fend off any move to regulate the prices they charge, while the government is increasingly viewing connectivity as an essential service.

State of play: Internet industry lobbyists are publicly touting studies showing a decline in prices, attacking reports that argue otherwise and telling members of Congress there's no need for new regulations because they already have affordable programs in place.

  • "A lot of their focus has been to point to the products they've put in the marketplace, the actions they took during COVID and doing a lot of handwaving to say we did all these things for Americans, we kept you connected," a Democratic Hill staffer told Axios.
  • "They're absolutely on edge," another aide told Axios. "They are concerned at the highest levels over the prospect of rate regulation."
  • Low-income broadband programs, which typically cost between $10 and $15 a month, have connected more than 14 million Americans over the past decade, according to an analysis from cable trade group NCTA.
  • The catch: Most Americans don't qualify for those service plans. Biden's push to reduce prices goes beyond just helping the poorest users.

Details: Broadband prices are often opaque — promotions, bundle packages, data caps and equipment rental fees all make it very complicated to calculate how much Americans are paying for their internet service.

  • "The challenge is — for a variety of reasons — there is really no uniform pricing practices among the big ISPs, nor is there any clear government requirement upon them to list the actual price," Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, told Axios.

The White House says Americans "pay too much for the internet" and Biden intends to work with Congress to find a way to "reduce internet prices for all Americans."

  • The administration pointed to a recent working paper from New York University finance professor Thomas Philippon that found Americans pay more for internet service than consumers in other countries.

And the White House isn't buying the push-back from industry groups.

  • A senior administration official told Axios the bulk of the evidence shows prices have gone up recently and prices are higher than they are for comparable plans in Europe.

The other side: Cable and telecom industry groups dispute many of the White House studies, and argue prices are dropping for U.S. customers.

  • USTelecom did its own review of broadband prices last year and argues that Americans paid less in 2020 for the most popular speed tier than they did in 2015.

Yes, but: The White House also points to a report from progressive advocacy group Free Press that argues that broadband prices have risen, using a number of different data sources.

  • "What actually matters most to people is the price on the bill for the check they write every month," Derek Turner, Free Press research director, told Axios.
2. Apple confronts critics in letter to Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple is swatting down criticisms about how it runs its App Store, arguing its policies are just like those of its peers, in a new letter to senators today.

Between the lines: Apple is making similar arguments to Congress to the ones in its defense in the Epic Games lawsuit — namely, that it has the right to run its marketplace as it sees fit, and that companies and consumers that don't like it have alternatives.

The letter, addressed to the members of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that held a contentious hearing on app stores last month, contends that Spotify, Tile and Match Group misstated Apple's policies and are actually examples of companies that have been successful on iOS.

"Rather than demonstrating a problem with competition, these witnesses — representing companies that have thrived in Apple's ecosystem — showcased how Apple and the iOS ecosystem foster competition."
— Apple chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer, in the letter to Congress

Yes, but: At points, Apple appears to overstate its case.

  • In one part, it writes that Spotify is wrong to suggest that developers can't communicate with customers about alternate purchase options, saying "Apple simply says that developers cannot redirect customers who are in the App Store to leave the App Store and go elsewhere."
  • However, this restriction doesn't just apply in the App Store, but anywhere within an iOS app.
  • Apple says that's what it means by "in the App Store" but it's doubtful the average consumer (or senator) will see things that way.

Meanwhile, when addressing Tile's concerns Apple reiterates that it has had a "Find My" feature since 2009, before Tile was founded. That's true, but until just recently that was only for finding Apple devices, not other products.

My thought bubble: Apple has a decent case to make, but by stretching the truth, it risks undermining its credibility. The better argument, which Apple also makes, is that companies are free to sell digital goods or subscriptions elsewhere that can be used within an iOS app.

3. Tech giants back broader work visas

Big Tech companies, led by Google, filed an amicus brief in federal court Friday morning in support of the spouses of certain H-1B high-skilled visa holders, whose ability to work in the U.S. is being threatened in court, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

What they're saying: In the brief, tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Amazon argue that removing the ability of more than 90,000 H-4 visa holders to work "would result in these talented individuals being barred from the workplace" and "would be utterly destructive for the families impacted."

Between the lines: U.S. tech companies often rely on the skilled labor of both H-1B and H-4 workers.

  • In the brief, the companies defend the work authorization as "critically important" to the foreign workers, employers like themselves and the overall economy.

Background: The Obama administration provided work authorization for the spouses of H-1B visas holders with pending green cards. It has allowed more than 90,000 people to legally work in the U.S. — more than 90% are women, as the brief states.

  • In 2015, an organization of tech workers called Save Jobs USA filed a lawsuit over the rule, claiming that the work authorization is illegal and creates unfair job competition.
  • The Trump administration proposed to end the work authorization, but the rule was never finalized. It was then dropped by the Biden administration, but the litigation has been revived.
4. Nonprofits lure techies to public service

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The nonprofit world is pouring money into efforts to get qualified science and technology experts into posts in federal and local government, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Driving the news: The Day One Project, an initiative backed by the Federation of American Scientists, has raised $650,000 with an ultimate goal of raising $4 million to send people on "tours of duty" in the federal government.

  • Those people will work on projects including technology modernization, climate change and pandemic response, according to an announcement exclusively shared with Axios.
  • The Knight Foundation also announced this week a $1 million investment in Code for America to fund training for "Tech Brigades" working for local government in Miami; Charlotte, North Carolina; Detroit; Philadelphia; San Jose, California; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Boulder, Colorado.

The big picture: These are the latest in a long series of efforts to get tech experts into the federal government.

  • The Biden administration has shown an appetite for modernizing the federal government and investing in research and development, said Matt Cutts, who left his post as administrator of the U.S. Digital Service in April.

What they're saying: "Frankly, we need a full court press with all different kinds of initiatives because it's unclear what the best or right way is to bring people in. But the the more exposure we can get between the worlds of technology and government, the better it is for everybody," Cutts said.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • My softball team — "Hold My Beer" — has a double-header on Sunday after getting our first two wins last Sunday. That's not tech news, but it's very exciting to be playing again after COVID-19 canceled all of last season.

Trading Places

  • Longtime Amazon executive Jeff Blackburn is returning to the company to lead its media and entertainment efforts after spending just five weeks at Bessemer Venture Partners.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

By popular demand, I give you another fabulous picture of a cardinal.