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Today's Login is 1,441 words, a 5-minute read.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Wall Street has become fascinated with a battle over 5G airwaves at the Federal Communications Commission — not because of the next-generation technology itself, but because of the potential investment wins.
Why it matters: The twists and turns of the FCC's debate over a swath of satellite airwaves has put billions on the line and shows a divide between D.C. and Wall Street on how to think about 5G.
Investors are less interested in 5G generally, and more in the fate of the companies at the center of a spectrum auction. The spotlight has been brightest on Intelsat, which has about $14 billion in debt and may need to clear a substantial sum from the airwaves sell-off to remain solvent.
Driving the news: The FCC will vote Friday on a plan to auction off coveted radio frequencies known as the C-band for 5G use.
Context: The spectrum is so sought-after because it sits in "mid-band" wireless frequencies that carry signals a long way but can still pack in a lot of data. Companies investing in 5G are clamoring for more of this mid-band spectrum to supplement high-capacity "high-band" airwaves that can only travel over short distances, making network build-out more expensive.
The intrigue: Of the satellite companies, Intelsat has been the one Wall Street is watching particularly closely. It is highly leveraged, and rumors have swirled about the possibility of bankruptcy.
What to watch: Pai's plan is up for a vote Friday, with Intelsat arguing ahead of the FCC meeting that it should get a larger percentage of the incentive payment.
The bottom line: Under the FCC's public draft proposal, Intelsat could receive $4.85 billion in payments, but a major investor warned the company that unless better terms are reached with the FCC, the board has "no choice but to resort to bankruptcy."
While any number of tech companies are likely to feel a business hit from the novel coronavirus, one of the companies facing the biggest challenge is Airbnb, which is entirely dependent on customers who travel.
Why it matters: The company has announced it plans to go public this year, and the virus outbreak could put a dent in its business and threaten the timing of its stock offering.
What they're saying: In a statement to Axios, Airbnb said its focus is on helping hosts, guests and employees deal with the global health challenge — and noted that historically, "when global disruptions happen, the travel industry has bounced back in the long run."
Yes, but: Even if Airbnb isn't able to go public as quickly as it had hoped, the company has proven its business model and built a dominant marketplace, factors that should help it navigate the challenges.
Go deeper: I discussed the situation for Airbnb and other tech startups on CNBC on Thursday.
Meanwhile: The list of tech conference cancellations keeps growing.
FCC commissioners, with chairman Ajit Pai at left, testify before a House committee in December 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The FCC plans to propose fines against wireless carriers totaling roughly $200 million for improperly sharing customers' location information with outside parties,people familiar with the matter told Axios' Margaret Harding McGill.
Why it matters: Lawmakers and others have been calling for agency action for over a year after revelations that location data from AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint made its way to a resale market used by bounty hunters.
Details: The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the four major carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — would face proposed fines from the FCC, although the companies will be able to challenge the fines before they are finalized.
What's next: The proposed penalties are expected to be made public Friday. The agency and the wireless companies declined comment.
Along with numerous law enforcement agencies, a number of companies have reportedly used or at least tested the facial recognition tools of Clearview AI, a controversial startup that’s built a database using publicly available photos, according to a new BuzzFeed report.
Why it matters: The list, which includes 2,200 names, includes many of the government agencies one might expect, but also a number of businesses, some of whose interest in the data is less clear, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.
Between the lines: It appears many of these companies briefly tested Clearview's tools out of curiosity and because the trial was free. Several high-profile firms said they're not active clients.
The intrigue: The interest in Clearview's tools from outfits like the NBA and Las Vegas Sands — which have to deal with physical security needs and threats — is easy to understand. But the leaked customer list includes a wide range of names, including many tech and telecom companies.
What they're saying:
Between the lines: It appears many of these companies briefly tested Clearview's tools out of curiosity and because the trial was free.
The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would provide funding to help smaller carriers move from Huawei equipment to rival vendors such as Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung. A similar bill had already passed the House.
Why it matters: While the major national cellular carriers don't have Huawei equipment, a number of smaller players have used Huawei in an effort to make their rural networks more cost-effective.
Have you ever thought, "I'd really like to see a team of veterinarians pull an entire beach towel out of a python's mouth?" Me neither, but here it is.