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January 03, 2022

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Today's newsletter is 1,152 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: CES puts smaller tech firms in a bind

Illustration of a conference lanyard with the letter O and a covid particle icon on it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

CES' push to proceed with its giant Las Vegas trade show this week, amid a raft of major companies canceling in-person participation in the shadow of the Omicron variant, has put many smaller companies in a tough spot.

What's happening: In private notes and email threads, many smaller exhibitors have fumed at being forced to choose between potentially losing a substantial investment or risking their employees' health.

Why it matters: Despite the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the Consumer Technology Association has been determined to move forward with its show.

The show officially starts on Wednesday and will end on Friday — a day earlier than planned. (Various pre-show media events start earlier, though many of them have been shifted to be online-only affairs.)

  • CTA officials have touted requirements for vaccinations and the availability of testing to suggest the event can be safely held.
  • Large tech companies that have pulled out of in-person presence include Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Meta, Twitter and key sponsor T-Mobile, whose CEO was scheduled to give a keynote.
  • Some, such as Qualcomm and Samsung, are moving forward with their in-person events and keynotes.
  • More than 2,000 other companies will also be exhibiting.

Between the lines: Balancing economic and health concerns is tough for all parties here, including CTA, which counts on the event for a significant chunk of its funding.

  • Most of the major tech news outlets won't be covering the event in person, further limiting the benefit to smaller exhibitors who press on.
  • In its messaging, CTA has talked about the benefits of the industry being able to gather in person while saying it understands that not everyone can or will want to do so.
  • Asked about whether it will be giving refunds to exhibitors who canceled over COVID concerns, a CTA representative told Axios that the organization "will have more information regarding reimbursements in the coming days."

What they're saying: "CES is excited to return 'home' to Las Vegas for a physical event in just a few days," CTA said in a statement. "Construction of exhibitors' show floor space is well underway and over 2,200 companies will be participating in person."

Here's where you can find Axios updates from CES all week.

2. 5G rollout spurns aviation objections

The ongoing dispute between wireless carriers and the aviation industry heated up over the holidays, with AT&T and Verizon on Sunday refusing a request from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to delay their planned 5G deployments, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The Federal Aviation Administration has warned that potential interference from 5G signals, especially in bad weather, could cause flight cancellations or force planes to divert to different airports.

Instead of postponing their 5G plans for a second time, the wireless providers offered to beef up protections around airports to address concerns about potential signal interference with aircraft equipment.

Catch up quick: Wireless carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, spent $80 billion in a federal auction to buy airwave licenses in the so-called C-band swath of spectrum, and planned to begin deployment Dec. 5.

  • But after the FAA and airlines raised concerns about the potential for 5G signals to interfere with radio altimeters that help planes land, the carriers agreed to delay deployment until Jan. 5.
  • A New Year's Eve missive from Buttigieg and FAA administrator Steve Dickson asked AT&T and Verizon for an additional two-week delay and a buffer zone around priority airports.

What's happening: The companies instead said they would not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months while the FAA studies the issue. Those restrictions resemble rules imposed in France.

What they're saying: "As you know, U.S. aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of U.S. passengers and with the full approval of the FAA," AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg wrote in the letter.

  • "As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist," they wrote. "The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France."

The other side: An FAA spokesperson said Sunday the agency is reviewing the letter from the carriers, and "U.S. aviation safety standards will guide our next actions."

3. Classic BlackBerry devices to stop working

An illustration of a BlackBerry device with question marks on the screen
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The BlackBerry era ended for most people some time ago, but this week marks a final end of the road for the services that powered the iconic smartphones.

Why it matters: Those who still own a BlackBerry OS device will lose basic smartphone functionality.

The company first announced the shutdown in September 2020, but reminded users last month that services for the BlackBerry operating system will end Tuesday.

  • "As of this date, devices running these legacy services and software through either carrier or Wi-Fi connections will no longer reliably function, including for data, phone calls, SMS and 9-1-1 functionality," the company said in a statement.
  • In most cases, BlackBerry's Android-based smartphones will continue to function normally.

Be smart: BlackBerry's business has outlived the demise of its devices. It quietly endures as a publicly traded company specializing in enterprise security.

4. Twitter boots Marjorie Taylor Greene

Twitter permanently suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's personal account on Sunday for "repeated violations" of the platform's COVID misinformation policy, Axios' Yacob Reyes reports.

Why it matters: The Georgia Republican is an outspoken critic of coronavirus-related mitigation measures and has posted a slew of false and misleading tweets concerning the virus throughout the pandemic.

  • Greene's Twitter account had previously been suspended in July for publishing incorrect information on COVID vaccinations and the efficacy of face masks during the pandemic.
  • Twitter uses a strike system to gauge consequences when a user violates the misinformation policy, with five or more strikes resulting in permanent suspension.

Of note: While the Georgia Republican primarily used her personal account (@mtgreenee), she does retain access to her official congressional account (@RepMTG).

My thought bubble: While the move is an important one in Twitter's effort to slow the spread of COVID misinformation, it will likely bolster some conservatives' belief that they are being targeted and could fuel Republican efforts to go after tech companies that moderate content.

Greene did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on the Twitter suspension.

The big picture: Twitter announced that it was escalating enforcement action on pandemic misinformation over repeated violations of its policy last year, including a 12-hour suspension.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • While CES officially starts on Wednesday, many consumer tech companies will be making their CES-related announcements today and tomorrow. Stay tuned to Axios.com for the latest.

ICYMI

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