Feb 11, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Saturday was both National Bagel Day and National Pizza Day, but feel free to celebrate either or both today.

1 big thing: Fight heats up over T-Mobile's $26 billion Sprint deal

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint will pitch their proposed merger deal to Congress this week.

What's happening: T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint executive chairman Marcelo Claure hope to ease lawmaker's concerns about wireless competition while pushing the tie-up as a key part of the nation's 5G quest, Axios' David McCabe reports.

  • The hearings, at the House Energy and Commerce and Judiciary committees, are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

Why it matters: The testimony is a key test for a deal that would reduce the number of major national wireless carriers from four to three. Meanwhile, the fierce lobbying battle over the $26 billion deal has divided Democrats.

Yes, but: The deal doesn't need congressional sign off, but legislators can put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to block it. The companies have aggressively lobbied both agencies.

  • The deal has been approved by regulators in New York, and it still requires approval in California.

What to watch: How seriously will the FCC and DOJ take T-Mobile’s argument that the deal will help it bolster its 5G networks to compete with AT&T and Verizon. (This is the linchpin of T-Mobile's push for the merger approval.)

  • T-Mobile and Sprint also pledged last week not to raise rates for three years, an attempt to mitigate concerns that the merger will lead to higher prices.
  • Their lobbying has been up close and personal. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has regularly tweeted from his trips to Washington, and the company’s executives have stayed on multiple occasions at the Trump International Hotel, according to the Washington Post.

A coalition opposed to the deal also met with staffers for all five FCC members this past week, according to agency filings.

History lesson: AT&T's effort to buy T-Mobile was blocked in 2011. Sprint and T-Mobile subsequently discussed a deal during the Obama administration but never moved forward because regulators made clear they would fight any combination among the Big 4 carriers.

The big picture: Regulators have been tasked with weighing a series of major mergers in telecom and tech in recent years, including AT&T's blockbuster acquisition of Time Warner, that stand to transform how Americans get information and entertainment.

  • The FCC and DOJ consider deals in parallel. The former looks at whether a merger is in the public interest, while the latter weighs the impact on competition.
  • T-Mobile and Sprint have said they think the deal will close "no later than the first half" of this year.

The bottom line: The deal's opponents are fighting an uphill battle against a generally business-friendly administration, but the hearings will let them air their concerns and turn up the heat.

Go deeper: Read David's full story here.

2. Trump to lay out his AI plan

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

In a move aimed squarely at China's swift rise in artificial intelligence, President Trump plans to sign an executive order Monday to strengthen America's global position in AI competition, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports.

Why it matters: Two years ago, Beijing launched a mammoth effort to turn China into a global torchbearer for emerging technologies. Trump's new order appears to be the beginnings of an American response — but it's light on details and offers no resources to back it up.

What's new: White House officials shared a summary of the order on Sunday but haven't yet released a final text.

Between the lines: The American AI Initiative, as the new strategy is named, is unlikely to call out China directly. Administration officials skirted reporters' questions about China during a Sunday press conference.

Details: Among the goals of the initiative are boosting investment in AI research, setting standards for AI systems developed in and out of government, training an AI-competent workforce, and involving allies in new strategies.

But, but, but: It's not clear yet how much muscle the administration intends to put behind its words.

  • The new initiative appears to do little more than send a strong signal to the federal government that AI is a prime concern.
  • For example, the administration said it would "prioritize" AI research funding, but did not announce any new resources for AI development, an area in which the U.S. lags significantly behind China.

The coming executive order is likely to be "significant," says Wendy R. Anderson, general manager for defense and national security at SparkCognition, an AI company — but details of the order are thin.

  • "If there's no implementation plan behind the EO — with details, deadlines, and funding — then it may be worse than no EO at all," Anderson, who was previously chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, tells Axios.

Go deeper: Kaveh has more here.

3. Sprint sues AT&T over its "5G E" marketing

Screenshot of AT&T's website

Thanks to recent software updates, some AT&T customers have started to see a new icon on their smartphones: 5G E.

No, the 4G phones haven't suddenly willed themselves into 5G devices. Rather, AT&T has decided to start marketing its current LTE Advanced network as "5G E" because it says it's part of the evolution to 5G.

The latest: What had been industrywide grumbling turned into a lawsuit Friday as Sprint sued AT&T over this branding. Sprint also wants an injunction to get AT&T to stop using the term to apply to anything that isn't real 5G.

Why it matters: Real 5G networks will start showing up this year, including on AT&T's network, in select cities. But true 5G only works with new phones designed for it, and in the small number of cities whose networks are updated.

  • AT&T's faux 5G, meanwhile, works with a number of existing phones and in a broader range of cities.

Our thought bubble: This type of marketing is bound to cause confusion. It's hard to see how anyone benefits other than AT&T, and perhaps Apple, which almost certainly won't have a real 5G iPhone this year.

Flashback: A similar thing happened during the advent of 4G, with AT&T and T-Mobile labeling a faster version of 3G networks as 4G.

4. What dating looks like in 2019

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

I haven't been involved with the dating scene since AOL was still sending out CD-ROMs, but I hear things have changed a bit. Whether you want to find a romantic interest or just find out how folks are finding their matches these days, my Axios colleagues have put together a deep dive on the future of dating.

Go deeper: Read the special report on the future of dating

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Goldman Sachs' invite-only tech conference takes place Tuesday through Thursday in San Francisco.
  • IBM's Think conference is this week, also in San Francisco.
  • Earnings season is mostly done, but there are a few stragglers reporting this week, including Activision Blizzard on Tuesday and Cisco on Thursday.

Trading Places

  • Intermedia Labs, owner of HQ Trivia, is adding Tinder CEO Elie Seidman to its board of directors.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

I thought I'd found the perfect way to keep my resolution to exercise more. But, alas, it's from The Onion.

Ina Fried