Nov 8, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Just a note to say we will be off Monday for Veterans Day and back in your inbox on Tuesday. Thanks to all who have served to protect our country, or still do.

Situational awareness: The FCC handed AT&T a victory in a dispute with TV station owners.

📺 Coming up on "Axios on HBO": The life-changing costs of being a whistleblower according to five who risked it all (sneak preview); Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi discusses the company’s goals for profitability; and an exclusive poll on America’s surging political anger. Tune in Sunday at 6pm ET/PT. 

Today's Login is 1,453 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: T-Mobile's quid-pro-quos for Sprint deal

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile dangled carrots before consumers and legislators on Thursday, promising cut-rate plans along with free 5G service to first responders as well as home broadband for 10 million U.S. families.

The catch: The promises all depend upon a successful close of the company's pending deal to buy Sprint.

The big picture: The Department of Justice approved the deal in July after T-Mobile and Sprint agreed to sell certain assets to Dish Network and help that company create a new fourth national carrier.

  • Just this week, the FCC gave its formal approval for the transaction.
  • However, a number of states have sued to block the deal, and a federal judge has to approve the DOJ decision as well.

Details: Here's what T-Mobile is offering:

  • A 10-year commitment to provide free unlimited 5G access to every state and local police, fire and EMS agency in the U.S.
  • A program to offer free service, free hotspots and discounted WiFi devices to 10 million households over 5 years, an effort to close the so-called "homework gap" among homes that don't have internet access.
  • A $15-per-month prepaid plan, which T-Mobile says is half the price of its lowest current option.

Between the lines: T-Mobile has held a number of similar "Uncarrier" events (named for the company's branding) in the past, where it has offered customers additional perks.

  • While the past "Uncarrier" moves were aimed at luring customers from AT&T and Verizon, this one appeared aimed at the regulators and legislators who are weighing the merger.
  • Consumers have no say in the merger's approval, although T-Mobile would certainly like to see them weigh in with regulators and legislators.
  • It's almost as if the company were proposing a quid pro quo: Give us the deal, and we'll give everyone these goodies!

What they're saying:

  • T-Mobile CEO John Legere: "We have definitively put a stake in the ground around the kind of company the supercharged Un-carrier will be and the ways we can put this radically better 5G network to work doing GOOD for this country."
  • Rich Brome, editor-in-chief of mobile news site PhoneScoop: "I give T-Mobile credit for aggressively going after specific concerns of the state AGs. But the one complaint they didn't address: There is no way Dish will be a 'serious' 4th competitor."
  • Freelance journalist Karl Bode: "T-Mobile is out here desperately making promises in the hopes of getting state AGs to back off their merger lawsuits. ... [T]hese telecom mergers than I can count, these promises will evaporate in about two years, just as pink slips arrive."

Separately: T-Mobile said it would turn on its nationwide 5G network on Dec. 6, covering 200 million Americans in more than 5,000 cities and towns. (Caveat: T-Mobile is doing most of that through low-band spectrum that offers strong coverage, but not the ultra-fast speeds possible delivering 5G using high-frequency spectrum.)

Go deeper: T-Mobile-Sprint merger deal approaches next hurdles

2. Uber will have to pay Waymo or shift gears

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Uber has disclosed in a regulatory filing that it may have to pay even more to Google-owned Waymo after an independent expert ruled that Uber's self-driving car technology still makes use of Waymo's technology.

Why it matters: It's the latest twist in Uber's long-running battle with Waymo over intellectual property issues, Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

The impact: Uber says it will likely either have to pay Waymo a license fee or make changes to its autonomous driving systems that "could require substantial time and resources to implement, and could limit or delay our production of autonomous vehicle technologies."

Driving the news: The disclosure, first noticed by Reuters, came after an independent software expert finished an examination of Uber's technology. The review was part of Uber's settlement last year with Waymo of a lawsuit over trade secret theft.

  • This further complicates Uber's autonomous driving ambitions, which haven't gone as well as the firm envisioned when it launched the effort a few years ago.

Meanwhile: Former Uber (and Waymo) executive Anthony Levandowski, who was at the center of the lawsuit for allegedly stealing tech from Waymo, was indicted by a federal grand jury in August on charges of theft of trade secrets.

Go deeper: Did Uber steal Google's intellectual property? (The New Yorker)

3. Disney strikes Amazon deal ahead of launch
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Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Disney has reached a deal with Amazon to put Disney+ on Amazon Fire TV devices, as well as on Samsung and LG televisions, Axios' Sara Fischer reports. CEO Bob Iger confirmed the deal on Disney's earnings call Thursday.

Why it matters: A streaming distribution partnership between Amazon and Disney seemed uncertain after it was reported last month that the two companies were at odds over advertising terms. Amazon's Fire TV stick is the second-largest TV app distributor, next to Roku. Disney needs that distribution outlet to hit its lofty subscriber goals.

Driving the news: Aside from the distribution deal, Iger made several other announcements about Disney+ leading up to its planned launch next Tuesday.

  • International launch: By March 31, Disney+ will launch in countries throughout Western Europe, including the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and others. The service will also launch in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands next Tuesday.
  • Hulu and FX: Hulu, of which Disney is majority owner, will become the official streaming home for content from Disney-owned FX.
  • Bundle: The streaming bundle that the company is creating, a combination of Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu with ads, will cost $12.99 monthly. That pricing is the same as Netflix's most popular $12.99 package.

The big picture: Disney is banking its future on its new streaming initiatives. Iger said at the top of his earnings call speech that the launch of Disney+ is the biggest corporate initiative in his 40+ year career at Disney.

Yes, but: While polling and analysis suggests that Disney will have a competitive advantage in the upcoming "streaming wars," its ambitious subscriber goals will be tested in coming months when competitive services begin to launch.

  • The company told investors in April that it expects to get 60 million to 90 million people to sign up for the service within five years.
  • The business has made several major investments in content and technology to hit those goals, most notably its $71.3 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox last year.
  • Iger said that by its fifth year on the market, Disney+ will have 620 movies, 10,000+ TV episodes and 60+ original projects per year.

Go deeper:

4. Big Tech spends billions to help housing crisis

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser

Four of the world's richest tech companies are pouring a collective $5 billion into housing on the West Coast. That, Axios' Kim Hart reports, is creating an expectation that companies will serve as part financier, part philanthropist as tech hubs try to add more supply to tight housing markets.

Driving the news: Apple this week pledged $2.5 billion to housing initiatives in Silicon Valley, where even high-paid tech workers — let alone teachers, nurses and police officers — are struggling to find houses they can afford.

The big picture: Other tech companies have announced efforts over the past year to alleviate the housing crisis around their headquarters.

  • Facebook committed $1 billion to help create mixed-income housing units, housing for homeless and housing for teachers and "essential workers."
  • Google has also committed $1 billion, including repurposing $750 million of Google-owned land for housing, and a $250 million investment fund to incentivize developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units.
  • Microsoft committed $500 million toward loans and grants to accelerate construction of affordable housing in the Seattle region, as well as grants to address homelessness.

Yes, but: Some of the biggest factors driving up housing costs are out of tech companies' control.

In California, single-family zoning and opposition to denser development have been huge drivers of skyrocketing prices. In Apple's hometown of Cupertino, a battle has raged for three years over plans to rezone a defunct mall property for housing.

  • In the short term, Apple's $1 billion for first-time homebuyers will increase demand but not supply, "probably actively making things worse for people who aren't first-time homebuyers," said Salim Furth, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
  • "Tech companies don't zone land or issue building permits," tweeted California state Sen. Scott Wiener, whose district includes San Francisco.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Wired 25 runs through Sunday in San Francisco. Speakers include Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, Instagram head Adam Mosseri, NSA cybersecurity director Anne Neuberger and computational biologist Laura Boykin.

Trading Places

  • Dish Network is beefing up its wireless leadership ahead of the introduction of planned mobile service. Former Nokia veteran Marc Rouanne was tapped to be chief network officer, with Stephen Bye, formerly of Sprint and C Spire, named chief commercial officer.
  • Home renovation app Houzz added Apple finance executive Saori Casey to its board of directors.


  • WeWork, under new management after a failed IPO plan, fired 13 employees from various offices around the globe for violating company policies. (Bloomberg)
  • An international committee of lawmakers called for a pause on micro-targeted online political ads. (Reuters)
  • Activision Blizzard issued a disappointing fourth quarter earnings forecast. (Reuters)
  • Venerable research firm Nielsen plans to split into two separate publicly traded companies. (CNBC)
6. After you Login

I love a good prank. And this is a really good prank.

Ina Fried