Nov 25, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Just to let you know, Login will be in your inbox today through Wednesday this week, then off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving.

And, you can be thankful that today's Login is only 1,250 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Climate change challenges wireless industry

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Even as action on climate change has become mired in partisan debate, the wireless companies whose networks are threatened by hurricanes, floods, fires and other extreme weather are taking action.

Driving the news: The major carriers are trying to find new ways to adjust to more frequent disasters and factoring climate change into their long-term planning, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

"The most important thing is making sure the decisions today are anticipating what tomorrow brings, and that tomorrow may be a long way away."
— Scott Mair, AT&T president of technology and operations

Where it stands: This year, Verizon began using the risk-analysis data used by insurance companies in its own model of how climate changes affects its network assets.

  • Meanwhile, AT&T joined with the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory this year to create a climate change tool that predicts impacts 30 years out. Right now the model covers four southeastern states, but the area could expand.
  • AT&T uses the model for everything from where to build cell sites to how to place fiber to where to put critical infrastructure.
  • "The climate change tool model will tell us water levels from rivers or hurricane-prone areas," Mair said. "It's generally a matter of a foot or two, but that foot or two means the difference between service or no service down the road a few decades from now."

What's happening now: Wireless companies also review what worked and what didn't after every disaster to adjust their rebuilding plans.

  • After flooding during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Verizon added stilts to raise equipment that powers cell sites, and after Hurricane Michael hit Florida in 2018, the company put its new fiber underground in Panama City, rather than using aerial fiber.
  • AT&T took the widespread flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 into account as it rebuilt infrastructure, elevating equipment and adding berms.
  • After Hurricane Maria, AT&T had to start from scratch in rebuilding its network in parts of Puerto Rico, and chose to bury fiber and use more steel rather than wood poles to better withstand high winds.

As for the wildfires in California, both Verizon and AT&T say the preemptive power outages were more problematic than fire damage.

Between the lines: The private sector's climate preparation comes without much action from the federal government.

  • "We've got rising seas, extreme climate events and outages like we've seen in California with wildfires," FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. "As a nation, we have to start thinking about what changes do we make to our infrastructure policies to ensure everyone can stay connected when disaster strikes. On that score, I think the the FCC has serious work to do."
2. Civil rights groups push Congress to probe Amazon

A dozen civil rights groups are banding together in an effort to push federal lawmakers to investigate Amazon over its privacy practices.

The big picture: Amazon is already under pressure from antitrust investigations, and it's facing growing scrutiny on the privacy front amid revelations of Ring's work with police agencies as well as concerns about the company's Rekognition facial recognition software.

Who's involved: The participating groups complain that "surveillance is at the heart of Amazon’s monopolistic business model."

What they're saying:

  • Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future: "During this holiday season, people are going to buy Amazon’s product unaware of the surveillance features and the threats they pose to their personal data and civil liberties. Meanwhile, Amazon gains access to video footage and sensitive audio recordings from millions more Americans and their families."
  • Jelani Drew, campaign manager at CREDO Action: "Amazon has too much access to our everyday lives and is relentlessly trying to gain more through surveillance technology. Amazon's Ring in particular is a perfect yet horrifying example of how Amazon, in partnership with law enforcement, is effectively making each and every one of our homes an extension of the police."
  • Gadeir Abbas, national senior litigation attorney at CAIR: "Amazon devices are in our homes listening to our most intimate conversations and affixed to front doors where they create an in-real-time record of all that happens in our neighborhoods."
3. The U.S. takes aim at Chinese drones

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Driven by fears of spying, the U.S. is taking dramatic steps toward weaning local, state and federal agencies off products made by DJI, the Chinese small-drone giant, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports.

Yes, but: The company's defenders say the moves are motivated as much by hard-line politics toward China as an attempt to head off a genuine security threat.

Driving the news: A House bill introduced last week would bar federal agencies from buying Chinese-made drones and drones with certain Chinese components. There's a companion bill in the Senate.

  • The bills are driven by a worry that Beijing could harvest valuable data from drones flying sensitive missions for the U.S., their sponsors say.
  • Last month the Interior Department grounded its 800+ drones — all made in China or with Chinese parts — pending review of their data security.

What they're saying: "Under Chinese espionage and national security laws, companies like DJI are required to turn over data to the Chinese government," Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.), who sponsored the Senate bill, said in a statement to Axios. "Why take the risk? There are American drone companies that we should be purchasing from."

Yes, but: To some, the moves to bar DJI from the domestic market smack of politics.

  • "Any allegations about DJI to date are pretty unfounded," says Chris Anderson, founder of 3DR, a Berkeley drone company that was DJI's primary competitor until it shuttered its hardware shop in 2016. It now builds software that works with DJI drones.
  • "Any suggestions that they are already a vessel of the Chinese government are unfounded and unfair — that, I would call political," Anderson says.
  • "It's very obvious that there's a coordinated effort targeting Chinese-headquartered companies and Chinese-manufactured drones," says DJI spokesperson Michael Oldenburg.

Several government studies have cleared some DJI models for government use.

  • In July, the Interior Department published one such study. The decision to ground its fleet several months later was an abrupt about-face. A department spokesperson declined to comment on the record on the reversal.

The bottom line: Even if DJI drones aren't shoveling sensitive data to Beijing, relying on a strategic adversary to supply a crucial technology is an "obvious fail in a great-power competition," says Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the think tank New America.

Go deeper: Searching for the next great American drone company

4. Intel teams up with MediaTek for 5G laptops

Intel is working with Taiwan's MediaTek to help take on Qualcomm in the emerging market for 5G-capable computers.

Why it matters: Cellular-connected laptops have yet to become much of a market, but if 5G is the thing that finally proves the tipping point, Intel wants to be prepared.

  • Dell and HP are among the PC makers expected to build a laptop using an Intel processor and MediaTek modem.

Yes, but: The first 5G-equipped laptops under the partnership aren't expected until early 2021.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's a quieter week on the scheduled events front, as the U.S. prepares for Thanksgiving.
  • However, a few companies are issuing quarterly earnings, with Hewlett-packard Enterprise due to report Monday, and HP, Box and VMware slated to report on Tuesday.

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6. After you Login

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you frigid temperatures, have a hair freezing contest.

Ina Fried