Feb 11, 2020

Axios Login

There are more than 650,000 words in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."

Today's Login, by contrast, is 1,377 words, a 5-minute read. That said, I doubt seriously it will be made into a musical.

1 big thing: T-Mobile wins judge's nod for Sprint

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A federal judge allowed T-Mobile's purchase of Sprint to proceed, ruling against a suit by a coalition of state attorneys general, in a decision released Tuesday morning.

Why it matters: The deal, announced back in April 2018, reduces the number of national carriers from four to three, but creates a much larger rival to AT&T and Verizon, and was seen as vital for Sprint, which has continued to lose market share during the deal's long approval process.


  • Shares of Sprint surged after reports of the deal, while T-Mobile's stock rose more modestly.
  • Under a settlement with the Justice Department, T-Mobile will sell off a number of prepaid assets and provide other services to Dish Network to allow it to become a national cell phone provider.
  • The companies also promised regulators they will deliver a 5G network to 97% of the U.S. within three years.

The states' lawsuit was by far the largest remaining hurdle to the T-Mobile/Sprint deal, although California's Public Utilities Commission has yet to approve the deal. The states could also appeal the ruling.

Representatives from T-Mobile and Sprint both declined to comment.

The big picture: The deal comes at a precarious time for antitrust regulation, with a wide push for greater scrutiny for tech companies, new theories of antitrust in the digital age, and new proposals to reorganize federal antitrust authority.

Our thought bubble: The judge's ruling might pave the way for Sprint and T-Mobile to merge while not weighing too heavily on the future of antitrust regulation. This deal was a classic horizontal merger of two companies in the same market, while many of the biggest questions now center around how much power tech companies should be allowed to amass through vertical integration.

  • The state AGs and other deal opponents argue that the merger will result in higher prices for consumers and could kill jobs.
2. Scoop: Snapchat's new wellness push

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Snapchat is launching a new set of tools and custom content around mental health and wellness, sources tell Axios' Sara Fischer. One tool includes a search function that delivers health and wellness resources on topics including depression, suicide and anxiety.

Why it matters: It's the first product launch around what will be a bigger health and wellness push from Snapchat that will be rolled out in the next few months.

Details: A search tool called "Here For You," will launch in beta Tuesday, along with new content features.

  • When a user searches for words that could suggest they need help with health and wellness issues, the tool will offer resources from mental health experts, as well as content from partners on topics such as anxiety, mental health and suicide.
  • For example, if a user were to type the word "anxiety" into Snapchat's search function, the show title for its new series "Chill Pill" would come up, as would episodes of Snapchat Originals devoted to anxiety-relieving videos.
  • It will also showcase original programming that talks about issues like suicide or depression in a constructive way.

The big picture: Many tech platforms are beginning to invest in health and wellness efforts to ensure the loyalty and wellbeing of their users.

  • Pinterest, for example, introduced emotional wellness activities like deep breathing exercises for users searching for resources around matters like anxiety or stress.
  • Instagram has focused heavy resources on combating bullying on its platform and worked to expand its ban on suicide content.

Between the lines: Snapchat's efforts, like Pinterest's, are more about providing resources than they are about fundamentally changing its product.

  • The company has dodged some of the bigger criticisms around user wellbeing that some of its competitors have faced due to its investments in privacy and combating misinformation.
  • It's also billed itself as a platform that's meant for close friends to interact, an approach that may lend itself naturally to tougher conversation around personal health.

Go deeper: Tech companies target your sanity

3. Self-driving vehicle law hits a speed bump

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Lawmakers working to speed a federal framework for autonomous vehicles into law face a key obstacle that stymied previous attempts: who gets sued in collisions.

The big picture: Manufacturers and tech companies want federal rules of the road for their roll-out of self-driving vehicles. But trial lawyers, a powerful lobby, want key questions on liability in a driverless world answered before legislation advances, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Joann Muller report.

Driving the news: Daniel Hinkle, an attorney with the American Association for Justice, is one of six people testifying at a House Energy and Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

  • In his written testimony, Hinkle warned that in order to ensure manufacturers live up to the promise that autonomous vehicles will be safe, laws — and consumer access to the courts — must hold them accountable to that promise.
  • Specifically, trial lawyers want to see manufacturers face liability as the "drivers" in collisions, and want Congress to prohibit forced arbitration so that consumers could sue manufacturers.
  • "The reality is that vehicle manufacturers have almost never voluntarily embraced safety technology without some precipitating force — and that force has most commonly been public accountability through the courts," Hinkle wrote.

Yes, but: Others argue the arbitration issue shouldn't hold up urgently needed legislation.

Context: After AV legislation stalled in 2017 and 2018, in part because of questions about liability, lawmakers from both parties in both the House and the Senate are working together on a new bill.

Where it stands: Without federal legislation, a hodgepodge of state laws allows the testing and deployment of self-driving cars.

  • In the meantime, NHTSA will have to consider exemptions from existing safety regulations on a case-by-case basis.
  • Last week, it granted the first exemption to Nuro, maker of a low-speed delivery vehicle.

Go deeper:

4. XML pioneer raises $10M for data startup

Docugami CEO Jean Paoli (center), with investors Ilya Kirnos of SignalFire (right) and Bob Muglia (left). Photo: Docugami

For two decades, Jean Paoli worked to make Microsoft's products more standards- compliant, and along the way he helped create the XML format, a key standard for organizing data for consumption by many different platforms. Now, Paoli has raised $10 million for Docugami, a startup that aims to allow businesses to use XML to get a handle on their piles of unstructured data.

Why it matters: Only 15% of business data is stored in databases. "The rest is all this mess," Paoli told Axios.

Details: While others focus on so-called big data, Paoli says Docugami aims to let businesses make use of all their "small data." With as few as 30 files to go on, Paoli says, Docugami’s Microsoft Word plug-in can offer workers suggestions to help create new documents based on prior ones.

  • The company is currently in a private beta with a number of companies.
  • Paoli said the new funding, led by SignalFire, will be used to expand the 12-person team with further engineering capabilities, as well as begin sales and marketing efforts in preparation for a broad launch near the end of the year.

Also: Bob Muglia, former CEO of Snowflake and former head of both Microsoft's Office and Azure businesses, is investing and joining the company's board.

5. Brandless is shutting down

Ina Fried/Axios

Brandless, a SoftBank-backed effort to build an online Trader Joe's for millennials, is shutting down after two and a half years.

Why it matters: It's another black eye for SoftBank's Vision Fund and shows that the direct-to-consumer business model has its limits, particularly for low-priced goods.

Flashback: The company began in 2018, offering a series of household goods and non-perishable foods. Every item sold for $3.

6. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Eileen Naughton is leaving her post as Google HR chief for a new, unspecified role at the company. The change comes during a turbulent time for the search giant, which is dealing with a range of employee activism.
  • Mike Hopkins is exiting his role at Sony Pictures to oversee video production and Prime Video for Amazon.
  • GoDaddy added PayPal senior VP Leah Sweet to its board of directors.


6. After you Login

Turns out that acorns can interfere with cell phone calls, at least when a woodpecker puts a few hundred pounds of them into a cell tower.