Jun 24, 2021

Axios Login

It's my editor's birthday, and he totally doesn't want a big deal made out of it, so definitely don't send your well wishes to scott.rosenberg@axios.com.

Today's newsletter is 1,381 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: House's tech competition bills leap forward

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Major legislation aimed at reining in the power of tech giants advanced to the House floor in the early morning hours Thursday after a marathon debate Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Ashley Gold report.

The big picture: The House Judiciary Committee approved five of a package of six bills, blocking most of a blizzard of amendments and beating back a wave of lobbying from the affected companies — Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.

  • The committee planned to take up consideration of a final bill later Thursday.

Why it matters: The bills aim to limit future acquisitions by the four largest tech companies, prevent them from favoring their own products on their platforms and require them to make their services interoperable and their user data portable.

  • If they become law, they'd represent the largest expansion of U.S. antitrust powers in generations.

State of play: The ranks of both Democrats and Republicans showed splits on the proposals.

  • Moderate Democrats raised questions about the breadth of the bills and their impact on innovation, even as the measures were largely propelled by Democratic support.
  • Meanwhile, a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in backing the proposals, while most GOP members said they failed to address the party's biggest beef with tech — its alleged censorship of conservatives' speech.

Between the lines: The Democrats' split was especially notable in the California delegation, whose members represent three of the four targeted companies.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat, said he couldn't support three of the bills, and noted in a statement that he represents thousands of employees who would likely be affected.
  • Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren warned about the possible practical implications of the bills — such as banning Amazon Prime shipping or breaking up Apple. She also warned of unintended consequences the bills may have on smaller companies like Reddit.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will also be key to passing these bills in the House.

  • Pelosi has not said specifically whether she supports or rejects the bills, but has had issues with Big Tech.
  • McCarthy has accused Big Tech of being biased against conservatives, but generally does not support the bills.

Meanwhile, California Republicans also found a lot to hate in the bills.

  • Rep. Darrell Issa called the bills an "unprecedented expansion of big government" with a "grab-bag of anti-business provisions."

Yes, but: Rep. Pramila Jayapal — the Democratic sponsor of the final bill under consideration, which could lead to the break up of Big Tech companies — hails from Amazon's home state of Washington.

The intrigue: Lawmakers expressed concern that the bills would only apply to Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google and not other large companies like Microsoft, or even Walmart.com.

What's next: These bills have moved quickly and decisively so far. But the California delegation's hesitation to fully support them may foretell some trouble for them in the full House, and their future in the Senate is likely to be even rockier.

2. Interview: Commerce secretary on U.S. chip crisis

Gina Raimondo. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Making more semiconductors in the U.S. is an urgent matter of both economic and national security, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The U.S., which once accounted for more than a third of global chip production, now makes just 12%.

The big picture: It's not just that the U.S. doesn't make as many chips as it used to. The most advanced chips are manufactured abroad, nearly all in Taiwan or South Korea, Raimondo said.

  • "We're very vulnerable if we have such a higher percentage of chips being made in Taiwan," Raimondo said. "Right now we don't make any leading edge chips in America — 0%."

Between the lines: While Raimondo said she was heartened to see $52 billion in funding for the industry pass the Senate and is hopeful the House will also approve the money, she said that will need to be matched two-to-one by private investment for the U.S. to regain its edge.

  • "$52 billion is not nearly enough," Raimondo said.

It's also unlikely that the U.S. can catch up quickly just by backing American companies. Many have suggested the fastest way to boost domestic production of leading edge chips is to get current leaders Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to make more chips here.

Raimondo declined to name specific targets, but agreed that getting overseas companies to make chips in the U.S. could be part of the answer.

Yes, but: All of this investment will do little to ease the most pressing issue in the chip business: a global shortage that has hobbled the auto industry and slowed the production of other goods.

3. NBC, with Amazon deal, preps Olympics streaming push

NBCUniversal will stream some of the most popular Olympics sporting events exclusively on its new streaming service Peacock, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report. The company also reached a deal with Amazon that will see Peacock and other NBCU apps show up on FireTV.

Why it matters: NBC has paid a fortune for the rights to the already postponed 2020 games and needs to make the investment pay off.

Driving the news: On the streaming front, USA Men's Basketball live coverage will be available only to subscribers of Peacock's premium paid tier.

  • Other sports, like gymnastics and track and field, will stream live on Peacock for free, in addition to daily live shows and original programming made specifically for Peacock.

Why it matters: The 2021 Tokyo Olympic games marks the first time that NBC — the longtime exclusive media partner for the Olympics — will be able to stream events on Peacock, which launched in April 2020.

  • The Wall Street Journal reported that Peacock had fewer than 10 million paid subscribers as of May.

The big picture: Executives said during a press event Wednesday they were optimistic that the pandemic would drive more people to engage with the games.

Be smart: The accord with Amazon ensures that Peacock will be on FireTV at a time when demand will likely be at its highest, making it an opportune time for the two companies to have a deal in place.

4. New app will verify workers' vaccine status

Photo: Proxy

Startup Proxy is debuting a new health app today that it says will help employers bring their employees back to the office safely by verifying their COVID-19 vaccination status, as Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

Why it matters: The app, or others like it, could be a sign of how employers can enforce vaccination requirements without relying on the honor system or hand-checking CDC vaccine cards.

The big picture: Most employers aren't requiring or planning to require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus before entering the workplace, per a recent survey by insurance company Willis Towers Watson.

  • But among the 28% of respondents that said they are or are considering some kind of vaccine requirement, more than half will require proof.

How it works: Proxy sells identity technologies, and its app will allow employees to verify their health status before entering the office — without sharing personal health information.

What they're saying: "People want to get back to normal, they want to get their businesses back to normal, but they also don't want to be increasing the risks to their employees," said Denis Mars, Proxy's co-founder and CEO.

  • "Every HR person or every person who's responsible for an office is asking themselves, how do we do this safely and responsibly?"
5. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Box hired former Adobe executive Diego Dugatkin as chief product officer. Dugatkin was most recently VP of product management for Adobe's Document Cloud business.
  • WarnerMedia named former LinkedIn engineering director Suja Viswesan as head of data, completing a new tech leadership team.

ICYMI

  • Eccentric software founder turned fugitive John McAfee was found dead in a Spanish prison in an apparent suicide. His death came shortly after courts there had cleared the way for his extradition to the U.S. (Reuters)
  • Amazon cast its recent Prime Day as a win for merchants, as the site did record third party business over the two days, with sales by such merchants outpacing Amazon's own sales. (CNN)
6. After you Login

I was reminded that, in our coverage of the Surface yesterday, I neglected to include this excellent parody video from the time. Today, I rectify that.