Apr 2, 2021

Axios Login

So who else watched the two-hour "Law & Order" premiere last night? C'mon, Stabler is back...

Today's edition is 1,435 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Why cable hates Biden's $100B internet plan

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden has a $100 billion plan to ensure all Americans have high-speed internet, but, some of the key companies that provide those connections are already balking, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Democrats on the Hill will have to overcome industry lobbying and Republican opposition to make this part of Biden's multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure program a reality.

Driving the news: Some key details of the broadband measures in the American Jobs Plan have internet service providers up in arms.

  1. The plan prioritizes spending for government-run or nonprofit networks. Such providers have "less pressure to turn profits" and "a commitment to serving entire communities," according to a White House fact sheet.
  2. Biden's plan also prioritizes "future-proof" infrastructure — which providers fear means the government will fund new fiber networks in areas where broadband companies already have customers.
  3. The plan calls for making internet service more affordable by finding ways to bring prices down, instead of giving government subsidies to service providers so they can charge some consumers less.

What they're saying: "I thought that it was really out of character the degree to which they embraced this sort of unfounded faith in government-owned networks to own, build and run this program," Michael Powell, CEO of cable trade group NCTA and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told Axios.

  • "The idea that the private sector and profit incentives are intrinsically unsuited to do the job" is "surprisingly Soviet," Powell added.
  • The focus on deploying fiber networks will leave rural households behind because companies will first upgrade networks in suburbs and areas that already have some service, he argues.

The other side: A Biden administration official told Axios that "future proofing" ensures rural areas aren't left with stop-gap solutions, and that the proposal focuses on underserved areas.

  • "If we are going to put billions of public dollars behind this effort, we want to do it in a way that sets us up for decades to come," the official said.
  • Involving community networks is a key piece of Biden's goal of reaching 100% access, but the private sector will play a role as well, the official said.

Between the lines: Republicans were quick to oppose Biden's plan, and moderate Democrats may also be uncomfortable with some of the measures as well.

What's next: The FCC is about to roll out a new subsidy program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, to give low-income consumers $50 off their monthly internet service bill during the pandemic. More than 300 providers have been accepted into the program so far.

  • But the White House says subsidies are not a long-term solution, and cheaper service is the answer. A study from New America's Open Technology Institute finds that Americans pay more than Europeans for internet service at comparable speeds.

The intrigue: The potential paths forward for reducing internet prices are not particularly appealing to providers.

  • One way would be increased competition — through government funding of competing networks. Another is government regulation of internet prices.
2. Exclusive: Spotify urged to drop mood, gender predictions

Photo illustration: Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Digital civil rights group Access Now is sending a letter to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek imploring the company to abandon a technology it has patented to detect emotion, gender and age using speech recognition.

Why it matters: While many of us in theory want our computers to understand who we are and what we want, the industry too often doesn't think through how its innovations will affect different kinds of people or what harm its collection of data can cause.

In its letter, Access Now says technology that aims to determine a person's mood and demographics based on their speech could be used to manipulate human emotion and is likely to lead to discrimination.

  • "This technology is dangerous, a violation of privacy and other human rights, and should be abandoned," Access Now says in its letter to Spotify, which was obtained by Axios.

Between the lines: Access Now highlights four areas of particular concern.

  1. Emotion manipulation: "Serious doubts have been raised about the scientific basis of emotion recognition technology and whether it works. While the majority of criticism has focused on inferring emotion using facial recognition systems, many of these criticisms apply equally to speech-based approaches."
  2. Gender discrimination: "You cannot infer gender without discriminating against trans and non-binary people. If you infer gender, according to a male-female binary from voice data, you will likely misgender trans people, and place non-binary people into a gender binary that undermines their identity."
  3. Privacy violations: "Based on reporting, the device would always be on, which means that it would be constantly monitoring, processing voice data, and likely ingesting sensitive information. ... No one wants a machine listening in on their most intimate conversations."
  4. Data security: "Harvesting this kind of data could make Spotify a target for third parties seeking information, from snooping government authorities to malicious hackers."

Our thought bubble: Information we give to companies for reasons of convenience becomes tough to claw back when they start to use it in ways that make us unhappy.

Of note: Just because Spotify has received a patent doesn't mean the company intends to build or deploy the feature.

3. Dish spats with T-Mobile, its biggest partner in wireless

Photo illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As I scooped yesterday, Dish Network has written a letter to the FCC expressing a range of concerns with T-Mobile, including over that company's plan to shut down an older network still widely used by Dish's Boost Mobile subscribers.

Why it matters: Dish acquired Boost Mobile as a condition of T-Mobile being able to buy Sprint and is relying on T-Mobile's networks to serve customers for the next several years.

Driving the news: T-Mobile notified Dish late last year that it planned to shut down the old Sprint CDMA network as of Jan. 1, 2022.

  • Dish believed that the network, still used by the majority of its 9 million customers, would likely not be shut down for three to five years, according to people familiar with Dish's thinking.
  • In recent weeks, Dish has been increasingly public about its concerns, including a statement from Boost Mobile EVP Stephen Stokols calling the move "highly anticompetitive" and part of an attempt by T-Mobile to steal back the customers it sold to Dish.

Yes, but: T-Mobile says the phase-out of the older network is part of the "natural evolution" of the wireless industry and a necessary step to build out its high-capacity 5G network. Plus, it says, it was only required to give six months notice and instead provided more than a year's warning.

  • "Everything we are doing here is exactly consistent with the agreement that Dish made with us a year and a half ago," the company said in a statement to Axios.

Our thought bubble: Given Dish's reliance on T-Mobile, it's reasonable to think that a public spat was not its first course of action, and that Dish has gone to regulators only after failing to convince T-Mobile to change its timing on the network shutdown.

The big picture: Critics worried at the time that the arrangement between Dish and T-Mobile would fail to produce a competitive fourth national carrier and wanted either stricter conditions or an outright rejection of the Sprint-T-Mobile deal.

  • Dish remains highly reliant on T-Mobile. Its plans to build its own 5G network are expected to take years to complete.

Read the full letter.

4. Supreme Court: Facebook's texts aren't robocalling

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Facebook on Thursday, finding the company's text alerts used for suspicious logins do not qualify as illegal robocalls, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Why it matters: The ruling could also provide more legal protections for telemarketers, at a time when Americans get billions of robocalls every month.

Driving the news: The court ruled unanimously that Facebook's automated text alerts, used for account security, do not violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

  • The court ruled that illegal auto-dialing systems use a "random or sequential number generator," concluding Facebook's systems do not.

What they're saying: "Congress' chosen definition of an autodialer requires that the equipment in question must use a random or sequential number generator," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the court's opinion. "That definition excludes equipment like Facebook's login notification system, which does not use such technology."

5. Take note

On Tap

  • It's still Passover, so nothing with wheat, please. How about a nice dry cider?

Trading Places

  • Twitter has hired Dina Eisenberg to lead its soon-to-be-launched global ombuds office.


6. After you Login

I'm not saying I approve of this April Fool's joke, but I am saying I would totally buy Duolingo Roll — toilet paper that teaches you a foreign language, um ... session by session.