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Sep 22, 2020

Axios Login

I'm back after a day off to usher in the Jewish New Year. Shana Tova for all those whose calendar now reads 5781 and a hearty "toda" to Scott Rosenberg for filling in for me yesterday.

Join Axios' Felix Salmon tomorrow at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event on the coronavirus' impact on economic and racial inequality in America with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics director Danielle Allen and Operation HOPE founder and CEO John Hope Bryant.

Today's Login is 1,527 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Why Puerto Rico still struggles to get online

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Internet connectivity remains a weak link for the disaster-wracked U.S. territory Puerto Rico, and some experts fear a new tranche of Federal Communications Commission subsidies set aside just for the island might not help the people most in need of a broadband connection, Axios' Kyle Daly reports.

Why it matters: Puerto Rico is locked out of most federal funding available to U.S. states to help expand internet service. The island risks being left behind as carriers expand and upgrade high-speed internet networks elsewhere, even as infrastructure-damaging tropical storms come faster and harder, and the pandemic makes broadband even more of a must-have.

Driving the news: President Trump Friday announced a plan for $12 billion in aid to the island to rebuild its power systems and lay the foundation for a revival of its once-thriving pharmaceutical manufacturing business. But Puerto Rico has broader infrastructure needs.

Where it stands: The FCC is in the process of reviewing applications from companies vying for some $505 million in subsidies to be used over the next decade to build out broadband service in Puerto Rico, in a program called Uniendo a Puerto Rico.

  • Puerto Rico's communications networks, already spotty in many areas, sustained major damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
  • Telecom providers have worked to shore up infrastructure since, and networks proved more resilient against a series of earthquakes this year, facing less widespread outages and going down for a shorter period than they did after Maria, Sandra Torres López, president of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board, told Axios.
  • But many people in Puerto Rico still have limited or no internet access, and building out networks is a challenge on the mountainous island.

The coronavirus pandemic has drawn Puerto Rico's connectivity woes in sharper relief, limiting possibilities for remote work, learning and medical care.

  • "My wife is a teacher and she has 22 students in her classroom. Only 12 children have [internet] service; the other 10 don't have access," Ernesto Irizarry Salvá, mayor of the town of Utuado, told Axios. "And those kids live in Caguana ... one of the neighborhoods with more access to the internet. These are American children that do not have access to anything in this pandemic."

The catch: Other parts of the U.S. can tap federal funds to close the connectivity gap, and the Trump administration has placed special emphasis on getting more of rural America online.

  • Yet Puerto Rico, despite much of the island being heavily rural, is either disadvantaged in or outright excluded from most federal rural broadband subsidy programs.
  • One reason: Puerto Rico's small size means most areas are too close to the capital city of San Juan to qualify as rural under the programs.

The FCC's Uniendo a Puerto Rico fund, established in the wake of Hurricane Maria, is an exception.

Yes, but: Some parties worry the end result will be more subsidies for major providers that have operated in Puerto Rico for years without delivering the reliable, fast, widely available and resilient networks that are badly needed on the island.

  • Blackburn, a Puerto Rico-based firm that sells wholesale network access and other telecom services in Latin America, is one party pitching the FCC on an alternative route.
  • It was initially deemed ineligible to compete for Uniendo a Puerto Rico funds because, the company says, it didn't have an existing form on file with the FCC detailing consumer broadband coverage.
  • Blackburn's petition for the FCC to reconsider its eligibility is currently pending alongside other companies' applications to vie for subsidies.

What's next: The FCC will select winning bidders for the Uniendo a Puerto Rico funds through an auction process. Then it will be tasked with making sure the money is put to its best use.

2. The WeChat ban vs. the First Amendment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Trump administration said Monday it would challenge a federal court ruling Sunday that temporarily blocked its attempt to curb the use of Chinese messaging and e-commerce app WeChat in the U.S.

The big picture: WeChat's ban has had a lower profile than TikTok's, but the fate of the app, widely used by Chinese people around the world to stay in touch with family and friends, is at least as consequential, Axios' Sara Fischer and Scott Rosenberg write.

Why it matters: The ruling suggests that WeChat's fate in the U.S. could be decided not only on grounds of national security and commercial regulations but also around freedom of speech principles.

  • "It's a mistake to think of this as (only) a sanction on TikTok and WeChat," tweeted Jameel Jaffer, the inaugural director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
  • "It's a serious restriction on the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens and residents — a restriction that the Trump admin should have to justify."

Details: In her ruling, Judge Laurel Beeler of the U.S. District Court of Northern California blocked the Commerce Department's WeChat ban because the plaintiffs, a group representing WeChat users, made a compelling enough First Amendment case.

  • The judge noted there are no substitute apps for Chinese-speaking Americans to use.
  • Millions of Americans use WeChat to communicate with loved ones in China. The app is also relied on by many Chinese-owned businesses in the U.S.

Between the lines: The Trump administration's campaign against WeChat and other Chinese-owned apps suggests that its vision goes well beyond plugging security holes and looks to push Chinese consumer tech services out of the U.S. market.

Be smart: In the ongoing trade fight between the U.S. and China, users, along with creators and advertisers, have become collateral damage.

What's next: Users can continue to operate WeChat in the U.S. for the moment. The Trump administration can appeal the judge's order.

3. Gen Z activists use tech, TikTok to push voting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Up to Us, a four-month-old organization largely made up of young techies, is debuting a social media-based campaign Tuesday aimed at getting young adults (or “Gen Z”) to register to vote for the upcoming U.S. elections in November, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: In 2016, while 88% of Americans aged 18 to 30 intended to vote, only 43% of them did, according to data from the American National Election Studies.

The big picture: Up to Us, which kicks off its campaign Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day, is the latest effort to appeal to young voters to register and participate in the election.

Details: Up to Us has partnered with Outvote, which built the underlying website, while Up to Us leads the marketing efforts via social media outreach, especially through partnerships with TikTok stars.

  • Users are provided with three options: checking their status if they've registered before, registering if they never have, or helping to get others to check their status if they aren't eligible to vote themselves.
  • Users can amass entries to potentially win a video chat with a TikTok star, or enter to win a Tesla car.

The project has not been without challenges. Some young social media stars declined to participate, citing a lack of faith that voting and the political process can be effective, says Up to Us founder Conor Sanchez-O'Shea.

The bottom line: "We want to make a real difference — we don't want this to be a stunt," says Sanchez-O'Shea, adding that he's conservatively hoping the campaign will yield 100,000 registration status checks and a couple thousand ballot applications.

4. Exclusive: Netflix, Google, GitHub top employer survey
Courtesy: Hired

A new survey shows that Netflix, GitHub and Google have the best brands as tech employers. The survey, conducted by tech employment site Hired and shared first with Axios, also identified the companies with the best employment reputation in various cities, with Microsoft tops in Seattle, Hulu leading the pack in Los Angeles and iRobot most highly rated in Boston.

Why it matters: The battle for tech talent remains fierce, with the pandemic marking a potential wild card as more companies show a willingness to hire workers wherever they are based.

  • Other regional leaders include Google in the San Francisco Bay Area (though it trailed Netflix in the global survey), Atlassian in Austin, Texas, CapitalOne in Washington, D.C., and Squarespace in New York.

Meanwhile: Here are a couple of other interesting findings from the study.

  • 54% of tech workers said a CEO's political stance can make or break a decision to take a job offer.
  • Nearly a third of tech employees said two hours a day is their limit for video calls.

Methodology: Hired surveyed more than 4,100 tech workers for its annual "Brand Health Report" asking which companies an employee would be interested in working for, both in their city and around the world.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Dish Network named Steven Stokols, former CEO of wireless upstart FreedomPop, as executive vice president of Boost Mobile, overseeing sales, marketing, and strategy and operations for the prepaid carrier acquired from Sprint.


6. After you Login

Who wants to see a mama hedgehog teach her babies to climb?