Jul 10, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

OK, hold on. Give me a minute. I'll come up with something. Wait, are you staring at me? How can I come up with a good intro with you staring at me?

Today's Login is 1,458 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Big Tech marshals a right-leaning army of allies

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As tech's giants prepare to face off with antitrust enforcers this summer, they will draw support from an array of predominantly right-leaning defenders ranging from influential former government officials to well-connected think tanks, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: The Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the states have multiple investigations of monopolistic behavior underway targeting Facebook and Google, with other giants like Amazon and Apple also facing rising scrutiny. Many observers expect a lawsuit against Google to land this summer.

What they're saying: Rather than defending specific companies' practices, tech's allies are broadly urging caution, warning policymakers against enforcement action or legislation that would upend decades of antitrust law.

What's happening: Tech's antitrust allies include think tanks, trade groups and former regulators. They're mostly drawn from the ranks of the old-guard Republican establishment and its libertarian allies rather than the more populist wing of the Trump-era GOP, which has raised loud complaints of censorship by tech platforms.

The ex-officials:

  • Josh Wright — The GOP ex-Federal Trade Commissioner now leads George Mason University's Global Antitrust Institute, which has launched a project on the digital economy. Wright has criticized the antitrust case against Google in academic research, and argued that existing antitrust laws are sufficient to protect competition in the digital marketplace.
  • Maureen Ohlhausen — The former acting chair of the FTC, also a Republican, joined a letter from Wright and others arguing against "radical proposals" to rethink antitrust enforcement. In separate comments to House antitrust investigators, she warned against the consequences of changes such as prohibiting a platform from selling its own products on its website.
  • Tim Muris — The former Republican FTC chairman, who has previously done work for Facebook, wrote a paper (that received funding from Amazon) warning against changes to antitrust doctrine. Muris also told House antitrust investigators in his own comments this year that existing law can deal with modern marketplace issues.

The think tanks and third-party organizations:

  • The Koch network — Charles Koch has supported a network of free-market groups that have focused on tech policy issues including antitrust, with Jesse Blumenthal and Neil Chilson, a former FTC chief technologist, leading the charge. "It's not about defending the big companies, but wanting the companies and the government to stick to the principles that foster innovation," Chilson told Axios.
  • International Center for Law & Economics — President and founder Geoffrey Manne, who in 2010 teamed up with Wright in a paper arguing against building an antitrust case around Google, more recently argued that antitrust is not a "legal Swiss Army knife."
  • Heritage Foundation — Former Trump campaign adviser and economist Stephen Moore, who is on a temporary leave from Heritage, warned against breaking up Big Tech companies in a recent column and in a Fox Business appearance.

Another source of support for the tech companies: The trade groups and business associations that count the major companies as members or partners, including NetChoice and the Connected Commerce Council, which has argued that the large platforms are in fact good for small businesses.

Between the lines: Despite Silicon Valley's liberal reputation, its biggest companies aren't finding a lot of outspoken allies on the left. Many progressive groups have called for greater regulation or antitrust action against the companies, including some calls to break them up.

  • It's typical in antitrust matters for liberals to take aim at big corporations and conservatives to defend them. What's new in this case: Tech also has prominent critics on the right, including the president and the attorney general.

Go deeper:

2. Schools confront broadband access crisis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

School districts are taking it upon themselves to help families get connected to the internet as they face a long future of virtual learning, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: In the COVID-19 era of education, broadband is an essential service that families need to stay connected — and that school systems require to equitably educate children in their districts.

The biggest hurdle: Most schools don't even know which students are lacking internet service, and the neediest families are often the hardest to reach.

Driving the news: The Trump administration is pushing schools to fully reopen in the fall despite surges of COVID-19 cases in multiple states. At the same time, many districts — including the country's largest, in New York City — are working on hybrid plans that combine limited classroom instruction with virtual learning.

Perhaps the most ambitious initiative is a $50 million, public-private partnership in Chicago, which aims to provide 100,000 public school students with home internet service for four years.

  • That's a big undertaking in a city where, in some neighborhoods, nearly half of households with school-aged children do not have in-home broadband, according to Kids First Chicago.

How it works: Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is using students' addresses to determine who lacks internet, then gives families a unique code to sign up directly with an assigned service provider.

  • United Way of Metro Chicago will handle paying the bills for the households.
  • Philanthropy donors are providing bridge funding for the first two years of service. CPS will cover the costs for the last two years.
  • Local organizations will help families understand how to use the broadband service and hook up the devices needed for online education.

Other efforts are also underway:

  • Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced last week that the state would use $10 million in CARES Act funding to reimburse schools for improving internet connectivity for K-12 students, about 20% of whom were not able to access online coursework during the spring.
  • In North Dakota, state agencies worked with local internet providers to connect 1,762 homes to broadband service.
  • The Racine, Wisconsin, school district mobilized secretaries and teachers this summer to call or visit families — including those in temporary housing and shelters — to identify those who do not have adequate internet service or devices.

Between the lines: The most successful districts have maximized their purchasing power by partnering with other nearby districts or municipalities, said Ellen Goldich, program director at EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit that is working with school districts on data collection and procurement.

  • "Service providers want to meet this need for their communities," Goldich said.
  • "But they're better at meeting that need when schools frame it in terms of a business opportunity."

Go deeper: How Trump's push to reopen schools could backfire

3. Apple releases public beta of iOS 14

After a couple weeks of developer-only testing, Apple has made available a public beta version of iOS 14, the software that will power iPhones starting this fall.

Why it matters: The early release gives early adopters and developers ample time to find bugs ahead of the full release, as well as a chance to play around with the new features announced in June.

Among the key features of iOS 14:

  • The home screen gains support for widgets, small apps that live on the home screen itself. There are also new options for displaying and sorting home screen icons designed to make life easier for those who have lots of apps downloaded, many of which get used only occasionally.
  • A new built-in translate app can convert text or voice among any of 11 languages.
  • The iPhone now supports picture-in-picture, allowing you to watch a movie while using other apps.
  • It also includes new privacy features, such as letting you know whenever the camera or microphone is in use.

Apple also released a test version of the next iPadOS, which is based on iOS14, but with some extra features designed for the tablet's larger screen. Among the new iPad features are:

  • support for handwriting recognition when using Apple Pencil;
  • a sidebar for more easily finding menu options;
  • and enhanced augmented reality capabilities.

Yes, but: The usual caveats apply. Beta software isn't for the faint of heart. Backup before you install the beta and, ideally, run it on something other than your main device.

4. SoFi applies for a bank charter (again)

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

SoFi, the fintech "unicorn" best known for refinancing student loans, has applied again for a bank charter with the Treasury Department's Office of the Currency Comptroller, the company tells Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva.

Flashback: SoFi first sought a bank license in 2017 so it could offer deposit accounts, but withdrew its application following the ouster of former CEO Mike Cagney.

What they're saying:

"SoFi is on a mission to help our members achieve financial independence to realize their ambitions. We firmly believe that by pursuing a national bank charter, we will be able to help even more people get their money right with enhanced value and more products and services."
— SoFi CEO Anthony Noto, in a statement
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • OK, this time it really is Friday.

ICYMI

  • PC sales showed growth in the second quarter, though analysts said it was likely a blip driven by the shift to work-from-home. (VentureBeat)
  • Sony is investing $250 million for a stake in Fortnite creator Epic Games. (CNBC)
  • The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving Facebook and unsolicited text messages. (Bloomberg)
  • A range of apps that let users log in using Facebook, including Spotify, Pinterest and Tinder, saw widespread outages Friday morning, seemingly due to a software bug. (The Verge)
6. After you Login

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Ina Fried