Apr 1, 2020

Axios Login

If you are looking for ways to keep your mind fresh, Axios will be hosting a live virtual event on how the private sector can contribute to social good in the midst of a global pandemic. Join us Friday, April 3, at 12:30pm ET live for this in-depth discussion featuring Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Edelman U.S. CEO Richard Edelman.

Today's Login will hopefully also help to keep your mind agile, but it's only 1,384 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Pandemic sparks a run on hotspot devices for students

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

To the list of coronavirus-caused shortages we may need to add WiFi hotspots, devices that use cellular signals to create local networks, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Demand is outpacing supply of the normally niche product, now a hot commodity for schools and libraries looking to bring online learning to students who lack internet access at home.

Where it stands: There are probably fewer than half a million hotspots available from the major carriers in the U.S., and the Asia-based supply chains that could replenish that stock continue to face coronavirus-linked disruptions, said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperhighway, a nonprofit that works with schools to increase broadband access.

  • That pales in comparison to the millions of students without broadband that school districts are looking to assist nationwide. (According to FCC estimates, 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access, though that number could be higher due to problems with data collection.)
  • AT&T and Verizon confirmed that hotspots are in high demand, in some cases exceeding supply or leading to delivery delays.
  • "For this school year, there is basically no chance we can get all these kids online using hotspots," Marwell said.

Of note: Even some small orders of hotspots that predate the crisis are going unfilled.

  • The Kansas City Public Library, which planned to loan out the devices to patrons, ordered 100 at the beginning of the year. So far, 25 have arrived, and deputy director Carrie Coogan said she doesn't know when the rest will come.
  • Donors have offered to pay for more hotspots, Coogan said, but it's a question of supply, not money. "It's frustrating because not only do we not know if we'll get the number we ordered, but we have the opportunity to get more and we can’t get those either," she said.

The best short-term solution might be to rely on secondhand or refurbished smartphones that could be used as hotspot devices, said wireless industry consultant Chetan Sharma.

Be smart: Most smartphones today can act as hotspots too, which is one reason inventory of the standalone devices was limited to begin with.

  • The 1Million Project Foundation, which provides connectivity devices to high schools, has begun offering smartphones as an alternative.

Yes, but: Even low-end smartphones like the $75 models the 1Million Project provides are more expensive than hotspots, which can run as little as $45, said project president Doug Michelman.

  • "If all they're trying to do is solve connectivity, a hotspot is the most economically efficient option," he said.
  • Hotspots also have longer battery life and provide a stronger WiFi signal than smartphones, said John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.

Meanwhile: The issue comes as lawmakers debate spending federal funds on hotspots for students in need as part of broader coronavirus stimulus efforts.

  • House Democrats sought $2 billion for schools to pay for WiFi hotspots and connected devices including laptops or tablets, though that didn't make it into the $2 trillion package President Trump signed Friday.
  • EducationSuperhighway's Marwell said he'd prefer technologically neutral funding that could be used for home broadband connections, hotspot devices or even more creative solutions like equipping school buses with WiFi and parking them in neighborhoods with students in need.
  • "Hotspot-capable devices are widely available, and Congress should be focused on providing funding to support any device that can deliver the connectivity kids need right now," said Nick Ludlum, spokesman for wireless trade group CTIA.
2. T-Mobile closes Sprint deal

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint have closed their merger, the newly combined companies announced today.

Why it matters: The deal — initiated nearly two years ago — brings together the nation's No. 3 and No. 4 wireless carriers under the T-Mobile name. Critics have said that the combination will reduce competition, even with concessions the companies made to win Justice Department approval.

Details: The combined entity will use the T-Mobile name and trade under the TMUS ticker. T-Mobile shares were up modestly as markets opened Wednesday.

  • T-Mobile CEO John Legere is also ceding his role to COO Mike Sievert a month early, the company said. That transition, originally slated for May 1, is effective immediately.
  • Legere, who led a turnaround characterized by aggressive subscriber growth and unconventional service offerings since taking the reins in 2012, will stay on the T-Mobile board through June.

Background: The largest obstacles were removed when T-Mobile reached a deal with the Justice Department and a federal court blocked a legal challenge from a number of states. The companies said in the wake of the court ruling that they aimed to close the deal as soon as April 1.

  • As part of the Justice Department deal, T-Mobile agreed to divest certain prepaid assets to Dish Network and to provide network access and other components designed to allow Dish to become a fourth national wireless provider.
  • T-Mobile also agreed to various conditions with several states, including agreements to maintain certain rate plans and staffing levels.
  • Sprint and T-Mobile were still awaiting formal approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, but on Wednesday they filed paperwork to withdraw part of the application — the wireline business over which the commission has clear jurisdiction. The real competition concerns, though, are over the wireless business, regulation of which is largely done at the federal level.

Of note: A number of banks that had agreed to provide $23 billion in financing (with hopes of offloading some of the risk as debt to investors) are now fully on the hook amid changes in the markets due to the coronavirus.

3. Apple buys weather app Dark Sky

Apple has acquired popular weather app Dark Sky. It is shutting down the Android version of the program and also plans to end support for third-party developers at the end of next year.

Why it matters: Apple may be able to use the deal to enhance its basic weather app for more iPhone users. However, Android users relied on it too, as did third-party software that relies on Dark Sky's API.

4. Charted: Streaming spikes during coronavirus
Expand chart
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Axios Visuals

Streaming video has shot up dramatically in the U.S. over the past month, as more people turn to their screens for comfort during the coronavirus pandemic, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: The pandemic has changed user behavior to promote more binge-watching, a habit that's likely to stay after the crisis concludes.

According to Hulu, binge viewing — that is, watching three or more episodes in the same session — has grown more than 25% over the past two weeks vs. the two weeks prior.

Details: Netflix had the biggest share of streaming minutes during the last week of March with 29%, followed by YouTube at 20%, Hulu at 10% and Amazon at 9%.

By the numbers: Netflix had 9 of the top 10 most-streamed pieces of programming from March 9–15, per Nielsen, including "Spenser Confidential" followed by "The Office" in the top two spots.

  • Nielsen's rankings mirror findings from Hulu out earlier this week that suggest that viewers have gravitated toward comedies and "comfort" TV shows, like sitcoms, reality television and cartoons.
  • HBO says that it's seen viewership gains for its original series, as well as films and some documentaries.

What to watch: Streaming has especially spiked with older viewers.

5. Today is not the day for April Fools' pranks

Yes, today is April Fools' Day, but this year it's decidedly the wrong moment for online pranks — even though tech companies have reveled in them for several years now.

The big picture: The genre was getting a bit tired even before the pandemic — and many things that might be funny in ordinary times simply aren't funny right now.

What's happening: Perennial pranksters Google and T-Mobile promised to forgo the jokes this year and many, many people have expressed the fervent hope that others will follow suit.

  • Case in point: A Korean pop star deactivated his Instagram account Wednesday after panicking — and then angering — fans with a prank post claiming he’d contracted coronavirus.

Still, it's probably best to treat online posts you encounter with extra skepticism. That said, it's good to do that every day. So maybe read Twitter every day as if it was April Fools' Day.

Yes, but: Today is the right day for me to say "Happy Anniversary" to my partner AJ. We've been together for 21 years (married for a couple years less than that). There's no one I'd rather be forced to shelter in place with for an indeterminate period.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Adobe Summit continues online; March continues indefinitely.

Trading Places

  • Guy Cartwright, the "chief transformation officer" heading cost cuts at e-cigarette firm Juul, is leaving the company.


  • Xerox plans to end its quest to acquire HP. (WSJ)
  • Microsoft reportedly plans to make most of its internal and external events online affairs through the first half of next year. (ZDNet)
  • Washington state has passed a law limiting government use of facial recognition, a move praised by Microsoft president Brad Smith, who has long called for such laws. (Microsoft)
7. After you Login
Screenshot of Adam Harrison's Twitter account

Now this is how you rise to the shelter-in-place challenge with awesomeness.