Sep 1, 2021

Axios Login

Congrats to Team Canada, who won the women's hockey World Championship Tuesday with a 3-2 overtime win against Team USA.

Today's newsletter is 1,193 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Internet shutdowns are growing more common — and costly
Data: Axios analysis of NetBlocks reports; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Once rare, partial or total internet shutdowns engineered by governments have become a near-daily occurrence somewhere in the world.

Why it matters: Such shutdowns pose a threat to human rights and are also costing the global economy billions of dollars per year, according to a new report from nonprofit Access Now and Jigsaw, a unit of Google parent Alphabet.

By the numbers:

  • Access Now documented 50 internet shutdowns in 21 countries during the first five months of 2021.
  • In addition to the impact on human rights and individual lives, there is a huge economic cost. The report notes that severe, prolonged internet shutdowns in Myanmar have resulted in an economic loss of $2.1 billion, or 2.5 percent of the country's GDP.

"The problem is getting worse both in intensity and costs," Jigsaw's Dan Keyserling tells Axios. That's partly because there are more shutdowns, but also because the shutdowns matter more as the internet becomes more central to more people's lives.

  • "The pandemic has just accelerated all of that," Keyserling said.

Between the lines: Large tech companies — including Google and Facebook — publish transparency reports that offer glimpses of how often their services were hit by shutdowns, but Keyserling says such reports show only part of the picture.

  • Internet shutdowns can be total, but they often take other forms, including blocking social media or specific sites using a variety of means — some of which initially resemble technical problems rather than deliberate state action.
  • Attack methods include throttling Internet speeds, denial-of-service attacks, blocking specific IP addresses and cutting off mobile data access.
  • While broad shutdowns are often the tool of choice for dictators and those conducting coups, global powers are also conducting targeted cyberattacks against other countries.

What they're saying: Jigsaw's report quotes individuals from around the world talking about the personal impact of such shutdowns.

  • Pino Ivan Louis, 36, Tororo, Uganda: "It was devastating. I felt like a piece of me had been cut off."
  • Jameel, 16, Baghdad, Iraq: "I couldn't talk to my parents without spending money, nor could I contact my relatives living outside Iraq. I lost connections to all my online friends outside Iraq."
  • Benjamin, 34, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo: "There is ongoing armed ethnic violence throughout our region, and most of the people live in insecurity. Without the internet, conflicts burst out and we do not know about it. Women are raped. Villages are burned down."
2. Korea's new App Store law makes global waves

Lawmakers in South Korea have passed legislation to force Apple and Google to allow rival in-app payment mechanisms within their mobile operating systems.

Why it matters: While the legislation is limited to South Korea, lawmakers and regulators around the globe have also been weighing action on mobile app stores and could seek to force a similar move in other regions.

Driving the news:

  • South Korea is poised to become the first country in the world to force Apple and Google to allow rival in-app payment systems under a law passed Tuesday.
  • Last week, Apple reached a tentative deal to settle a class-action lawsuit from developers. While Apple would make some concessions, the proposed agreement would keep in place the company's ban on rival in-app payment systems and app stores.
  • The same judge who has to approve that settlement is also set to rule shortly on a lawsuit brought by "Fortnite" maker Epic Games against Apple. That suit seeks to force Apple to allow rival payment systems and app stores. Epic also has a pending suit against Google.

The big picture: For both Apple and Google, app store control has meant revenue and power over smartphone software ecosystems, and Apple in particular has argued that its control creates a better experience for users. But governments around the world are beginning to question that argument and define app stores as old-fashioned monopolies.

3. AT&T seeks FCC action on T-Mobile airwaves

AT&T said Wednesday it wants the Federal Communications Commission to review and potentially limit the amount of 5G spectrum that rival T-Mobile can acquire, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: T-Mobile used to be the one calling on the FCC to ensure that its bigger competitors didn't hog all the airwaves, but with its Sprint acquisition and success in auctions, its spectrum holdings have the attention of both AT&T and Verizon.

Driving the news: In a blog post and petition to the agency, AT&T says it wants the FCC to adopt a new, separate spectrum screen for midband spectrum — a swath of airwaves that carriers are using for their 5G services.

  • Spectrum screens don't put a limit on how much spectrum a carrier can hold, but instead are used to trigger an enhanced review by the FCC of spectrum acquisitions that could harm competition.
  • AT&T argues that a midband screen is justified, since the agency already uses the tool for low and high band spectrum.

What they're saying: "To the extent that [large blocks of midband spectrum] become unduly concentrated in the hands of one or two licensees, 5G competition is likely to falter," Joan Marsh, AT&T executive vice president of federal regulatory relations, wrote in the post.

Go deeper: T-Mobile, once an upstart, joins the giants

4. Car owners' new gripe: lousy wireless service

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The biggest frustration among new car owners is that they can't get their car and smartphone to talk to one another, Axios' Joann Muller reports, citing a new J.D. Power study.

Why it matters: Consumers want their digital lives to follow them seamlessly in the car, which is why Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become so popular. But if the wireless connection is glitchy, such features don't work, leaving car owners unhappy.

  • "Owners are caught in the middle when vehicle and phone technologies don't properly connect," says Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power.

Driving the news: 1 in 4 problems cited by car buyers in the first 90 days of ownership involves infotainment, according to the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study, released Tuesday.

  • For the first time in a decade, voice recognition is not the top problem; instead, it's Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, which worsened significantly, especially for those trying to connect wirelessly.
  • About one-third of new cars now come with a built-in WiFi hub, which may or may not be compatible with a phone's operating system.

Read the full story.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • Many creators are taking part in #ADayOffTwitch, a blackout to protest the so-called hate raids faced by many streamers on the Amazon-owned video service.
  • Asana is set to report earnings after the markets close.

Trading Places

  • ServiceNow said it has hired enterprise software veteran Jon Sigler to lead its Now Platform product organization. Sigler, who most recently served as an executive vice president at Salesforce, also previously worked at Apple and Microsoft.