Apr 13, 2020

Axios Login

There's another Axios event coming up and it's in your city. Because it's in every city. Because it's online.

Axios is hosting a live virtual event on the future of fintech and consumer privacy. Join us Wednesday, April 15, at 12:30pm ET live for a conversation with founder of Humanity Forward and former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and CEO of Credit Karma Kenneth Lin.

Situational awareness: Jamie Iannone has been named eBay's new CEO, joining the company from Walmart, where he was COO of the e-commerce division.

Today's Login is 1,538 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: WiFi is set for a boost

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the coronavirus pandemic binding Americans to their home internet service, policymakers are moving to create more space for the WiFi networks those homes use, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: WiFi use has already been exploding as consumers connect more devices to their home broadband networks, a trend that's only accelerated with the coronavirus. Yet it's been years since the spectrum dedicated to carrying that load has been expanded.

Driving the news: The Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve a plan to augment WiFi capacity this month.

  • Chairman Ajit Pai's order would make 1,200 megahertz of additional spectrum available for WiFi use, creating the capacity for new WiFi use cases, such as immersive online learning.

Why it matters: The broadband connections into Americans' homes appear to be holding up against the recent surge in residential traffic, but WiFi still poses a potential bottleneck.

  • That's particularly the case in densely populated areas, where many people's WiFi signals are crammed into the swaths of airwaves currently set aside for the technology.
  • "The internet is WiFi," said Carl Leuschner, senior vice president of Charter Communications' internet and voice products. "If WiFi is not great, the internet will not be great for consumers — that is how they connect."

By the numbers: Cable companies reported a 19% increase in peak downstream traffic and a 33% increase in peak upstream traffic since March 1, according to data compiled by cable trade group NCTA.

  • That means an increase in WiFi use. Charter, for instance, notes that more than 90% of devices on its network connect via WiFi.
  • "In many households, daytime internet traffic has doubled, even tripled from pre-pandemic levels," Charter's chief technology officer Stephanie Mitchko-Beale said. But demand continues to peak during the evening between 8pm and 9pm.
  • The company's network supports more than 300 million IP devices, and about 80% of the wireless data consumed on its customers' mobile devices arrives via WiFi.

Yes, but: The changes the FCC has in store for WiFi won't be immediate. New routers, laptops and phones that can use the newly opened airwaves will have to be manufactured and rolled out to customers first.

  • Broadcom's Chris Szymanski, director of product marketing and government affairs, estimated that could happen by the end of the year, and customers who don't immediately upgrade could still benefit.
  • "As this is launched, this takes the strain off the existing networks," Szymanski said. "If only two of your neighbors aren't using the spectrum anymore, your experience is going to improve."

What they're saying: "The biggest benefit consumers will see is ... faster speeds to the consumer device," NCTA vice president and associate general counsel Danielle Piñeres told Axios. "That's going to be huge for video streaming, for video conferencing."

  • But wireless trade group CTIA wanted the agency to make some of the airwaves Pai plans to allocate to WiFi available instead for licensed, 5G use.

Meanwhile: The FCC did make more airwaves available on an emergency basis last month for wireless broadband providers, largely in rural areas.

2. Tech moves into government vacuum on coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, tech companies are stepping into the void left by a reluctant or incapable federal government — enabling contact tracing, wrestling with testing, and ramping up the capacity of government operations like unemployment services, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Why it matters: In the U.S., these giant firms — teeming with creative and restless employees, cushioned by big financial reserves and spurred on by the urgency of the moment — have stopped waiting for the government to move and begun taking their own initiative.

Driving the news: On Friday, rivals Apple and Google announced a joint project to enable phone-based contact tracing using their phones' short-distance Bluetooth-based networking signals.

  • They'll offer programming interfaces and operating-system integrations for iOS and Android — allowing governments here and abroad to provide apps that tell users when they've crossed paths with people who've tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • They say they've designed the system to protect individual users' privacy while serving public health needs.
  • The companies undertook this collaboration without direction from the federal government, but in consultation with governments and health authorities around the world.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Washington Post reported that Amazon is planning to build its own virus testing facility to screen its workers.

  • The online retail giant's delivery business has skyrocketed thanks to shelter-in-place orders, but the firm has seen virus outbreaks at 64 of its facilities, per the Post, and several walk-outs by fearful warehouse workers.
  • Testing in the U.S. has lagged behind demand from the earliest days of the crisis, when a flaw hobbled the first wave of test kits based on a CDC design.
  • "We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant timeframe," an Amazon blog post read, "but we think it’s worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn with others."

Also last week, as millions of newly unemployed workers flooded state websites, Google helped provide New York state with a new portal to manage the surge of benefits applications.

Flashback: Last month, a confusing announcement by President Trump about a new Google project for screening COVID-19 patients left the company scrambling to clarify what was actually in its product pipeline while not antagonizing the White House.

Our thought bubble: Public-private partnerships are common in times of crisis, and tech companies always love to show off their "how can we help?" reflexes when calamities arise.

  • But the pandemic response is breaking from the normal pattern in which government calls for action, specifies needs, and sets standards and priorities while companies apply expertise and deliver results.
  • Instead, this time around, in the absence of clear signals and coordination from Washington, the tech giants are having to forge paths of their own.
3. Uber updates compensation policy for drivers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber adjusted its paid sick leave policy on Friday to expand qualifying criteria while instituting caps on the amounts it pays out, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: Gig economy workers continue to have limited work protections and benefits even as they are putting themselves at risk to ferry food, groceries, and passengers.

The details: Uber's new policy now extends the two-week paid leave benefits to drivers with pre-existing conditions that heightened their risk of serious illness from COVID-19 (per the CDC).

  • However, it's also now capping the maximum amount drivers can receive, even if their past average earnings would have netted them more pay under the previous policy, which was slated to expire on Thursday.
  • For example, these new caps are $459 in Los Angeles, $244 in Columbus, Ohio, and $136 in Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
  • Uber will also re-evaluate applications that were rejected under the old policy.
  • The company says that as of Friday, it has paid out $4 million to U.S. drivers under its COVID-19 policies.

The big picture: Each gig economy company has devised its own approach to providing some compensation to workers during the pandemic shutdown.

  • Lyft recently updated its policy and will pay drivers between $250 and $1,000, depending on how much they earned from the service over the prior four weeks.
  • DoorDash also provides compensation for drivers if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, asked to quarantine by a doctor or health authorities, have a pre-existing condition that puts them at higher risk, or live with someone who meets any of these criteria.
  • Instacart, the grocery delivery service, offers compensation to its shoppers — but only if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are contacted by health authorities because of a known exposure to someone who is diagnosed.
  • Postmates provides two types of compensation, one in the form of health savings credits to cover potential testing or other medical expenses, and one for drivers who are diagnosed or asked to quarantine by a doctor. The company declined to share how much it compensates in either case.

Between the lines: As the shutdown moves deeper into a second month, the companies are realizing they need to make this compensation sustainable in the longer run.

  • "Because this will mean more people are eligible than under the old policy, we’ve chosen to establish a maximum per-person payment to make this new policy more sustainable," Uber said.
4. Google, CEO each donate $1M to Bay Area families

Google is seeking to raise $5 million to help families in the San Francisco Bay Area burdened by the coronavirus crisis, it announced Sunday night.

Why it matters: Google's home region remains one of the most expensive in the country and, for those not able to work from home, the COVID-19 outbreak is a financial ordeal as well as a health crisis.

Details: The company and CEO Sundar Pichai are contributing $1 million each to launch the effort. Google aims to raise another $3 million from employees and others through GiveDirectly. All told, up to 5,000 families would receive $1,000 each.

  • Google's donation comes via its Google.org philanthropic arm and comes on top of $50 million already donated to COVID-19 relief and another $2 million raised by Google workers in the Bay Area.

In other virus-related tech news:

  • AT&T said Sunday it is giving three free months of cell service to nurses and physicians through FirstNet, AT&T-run wireless network for first responders. That's on top of existing promotions for healthcare workers who already use the service or who join it.
5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Another week of "Sorry, I was on mute," and "No, you go ahead."

Trading Places

  • Programmable chipmaker Xilinx hired 25-year Intel veteran Brice Hill as its CFO.


  • Demand for PCs rose in the first quarter as people looked to update their home offices, but shipments fell 8% year-over-year amid problems in the supply chain, as China struggled through the epidemic. (TechCrunch)
6. After you Login

More than 20 million people watched Andrea Bocelli do a free online Easter concert from an empty cathedral Sunday. If you weren't one of those, you can check it out on YouTube.