Axios - Technology
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FCC no longer cares to regulate pay phones because there are so few left

AP

The FCC on Thursday proposed eliminating some of the regulatory requirements for phone companies that support the few remaining pay phones.

Why it matters: It's another sign of the rapid decline of pre-cellphone era technology. You know the numbers of pay phones are seriously dwindling when the telecom regulator no longer feels the need to track transactions for them. The number of U.S. pay phones has declined to fewer than 100,000 from 2 million in 1997.

Data: FCC; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Cincinnati Bell asked the FCC last month for a waiver to exempt it from filing the annual audits tracking pay phone transactions. According to FCC filings, the cost of Cincinnati Bell's audit is now about five times the amount of revenue it makes from its pay phones. Sprint also asked for a waiver.

What's next: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to waive the pay phone audit requirements for 2017 while the agency considers whether to eliminate them altogether.

Fun fact: The first pay phone was installed in New Haven, Conn., in June 1880, per the AT&T blog.

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Report: Uber commissions probe into handling of India rape

Jeff Chiu / AP

Uber has reportedly tasked law firm O'Melveny & Myers with investigating how a former executive obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped by a driver in India in 2014, Reuters reports, citing anonymous sources. O'Melveny & Myers is also representing Uber in a lawsuit filed last week by the victim for invasion of privacy, Axios has learned, so it's no surprise it's looking into the allegations.

A spokesperson for Eric Alexander, the executive in question who was fired last week after reporters inquired with Uber about the allegations, told Reuters that he got the documents through legal means and denied ever questioning whether the rape was a ploy by a competitor.

The details: The investigation will cover allegations that the records were obtained through bribes, and examine what then-CEO Travis Kalanick knew about how the records were obtained. Accounts of the situation from current and past employees vary greatly. Uber declined to comment.

Featured

If a chicken sandwich goes to space, tourists are next

A KFC chicken sandwich will soon fly to space, and while it may sound silly, that means we're one step closer to sending tourists to space, too. World View Enterprises, a space tourism company based in Arizona, is testing its unmanned, high-altitude balloon by launching fried chicken 100,000 feet into the air. The company will launch any day now.

What's next: The next step is to carry tourists to the edge of the atmosphere. The chicken sandwich's voyage, which will last four days and be filmed by multiple cameras, will test the balloon's ability to communicate with ground operations and use solar power. If all goes well, World View Enterprises plans to charge passengers $75,000 for a view of the curvature of the Earth. Tickets are already on sale.

Why it matters: The high-altitude balloon offers a relatively inexpensive version of space tourism, which usually costs many millions.

Featured

Tesla wants to create its own music streaming service

Elon Musk above ground. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Tesla is talking to music labels about licensing a proprietary music service to bundle with its cars, Recode reports.

Why? It's unclear. Trying to create a new streaming service is a counter-intuitive effort for the carmaker, which is under pressure to meet its ambitious production schedule and already has a music deal with Spotify for Teslas sold outside the U.S.

But music labels are entertaining the talks, Recode says. They are happy to help a potential competitor to leading streaming services Spotify and Apple. Tesla, meanwhile, says its "goal is to simply achieve maximum happiness for our customers."

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FCC proposes record fine for faking robocall numbers

AP

The FCC on Thursday proposed a $120 million fine against a Florida man allegedly behind millions of robocalls that used faked numbers. It's the largest fine the agency has ever proposed.

The agency says Adrian Abromovich's "operation apparently made the spoofed calls in order to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering and listening to his advertising messages." Spoofing is when a robocaller fakes the number the call is coming from so the called consumer will pick the phone up. The agency said that the "proposed fine is based on 80,000 spoofed calls that the Commission has verified."

Why it matters: First, robocalls are annoying. They're a huge concern for consumers who complain to the FCC, which has struggled in the past to tackle the issue. The proposed fine also gives clues to how Chairman Ajit Pai will use the agency's significant enforcement powers.

What's next: The FCC decision on Thursday was to lodge its allegations against Abromovich. Now he has a chance to respond, and then the process proceeds from there. An attempt to reach Abromovich was unsuccessful.

Featured

This AI camera is built to think like the human brain

Ted S. Warren / AP

A new AI camera can mimic signaling patterns of the human brain, reports Scientific American.

The camera's photo sensors are like a pair of eyes that "wake up" and start looking around when they detect changes in light and movement. Next, the "eyes" send electrical signals to the circuits that control the backend of the camera and mimic the neuron pathways of the human brain. As the camera keeps working and sending more signals, its internal "neuron network" will learn to react more quickly to external stimuli, such as traffic lights changing and pedestrians crossing.

Why it matters: The camera does not start recording until it detects stimuli — a feature which makes it a more intelligent device that saves memory and power. This new technology also shows that AI, often requiring expensive and large-scale hardware, can be applied to devices small enough to be affixed to a drone.

Featured

Trump mulls drone regulation and wireless infrastructure

Evan Vucci / AP

Drone and wireless companies came to the White House to ask President Trump for help in rolling out their emerging technology — and turning it into big business. The event also featured representatives from venture capital, though most major firms weren't present.

"We want our innovators to dream big, like the folks around me and surrounding me in this room," he said. "And we want them to create new companies and to create lots of jobs."

Worth noting:

  • The telecom execs in the room praised Trump's de-regulatory approach, which has delivered key victories for the industry. A T-Mobile executive mentioned Trump's "open-mindedness" when it comes to regulation. And a Verizon executive's comments called to mind telco hopes that broadband will play a big part in a potentially-forthcoming infrastructure package: "With your focus on US job creation and US leadership in these industries, we think this is a great time for public-private partnership," said John Stratton, the company's president. Trump made comments about using the White House's influence to help speed up the process for small cell wireless infrastructure that is needed for 5G network deployment; the next generation wireless tech was a topic of one of the Thursday event's working group sessions.
  • Trump also heard multiple times that it was important for venture capital to reach companies outside of Silicon Valley and other coastal hubs. Steve Case, the Aol-founder turned VC who has pushed for more attention on tech in the middle of the country, said the playing field needed to be leveled to help startups outside of current tech centers.
  • He also heard from drone company representatives. "This is actually the one industry where we actually need a little bit more regulation, because the default is actually limiting what drone technology can do," said PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen.
What we're watching: Listening sessions are one thing, but will any new policy or action come from the meetings?
Featured

More than 1,000 Uber employees ask for Travis Kalanick to return

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

More than one thousand current Uber employees have signed a letter to the company's board of directors, asking for the return of deposed CEO Travis Kalanick "in an operational role." One of its venture capital investors also is chiming in, with a similar message.

The letter is the result of a petition that has been circulating since yesterday, through which employees could add their name and comments on the situation. Rather than technically "signing," they logged into a Google Doc by using their Uber identification credentials. So far, the signatories represent nearly 10% of the company's estimated employee base (which does not include drivers).

Below is the full text of the letter to the board, which was provided to Axios by a source under the condition that we not include the names of signatories.

Board of Directors --

I'm writing to you today ahead of your scheduled meeting to share the thoughts of over 1,100 full-time Uber employees (and counting) who vehemently disagree with Travis' resignation as CEO and the associated pressure placed on him to do so by investors and board members alike.

In less than 12 hours, these employees have expressed their belief that Travis should return to Uber in an operational role. This magnitude of a response was unexpected and should not be ignored. What started as simple note to my closest co-workers turned into a petition spanning hundreds of offices and teams, and has yet to be seen by a majority of employees.

As the folks who've actually worked alongside Travis for years to help create Uber from nothing, we are extremely disappointed by the short-sightedness and pure self-interest demonstrated by those who are supposed to protect the long-term interests of our company.

Yes, Travis is flawed, as we all are. But his passion, vision, and dedication to Uber are simply unmatched. We would not be here today without him, and believe he can evolve into the leader we need. He is critical to our future success.

We await your response and look forward to Travis' return in an operational role.

There also have been several public Facebook posts in support of Kalanick, including from current Uber employees like Margaret-Ann Seger and former ones like Frederique Dame.

Finally, Axios has received a statement from Mood Rowghani, a partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which is an Uber investor. He appears to agree with the idea of Kalanick retaining an operational role at the company, in addition to just a board seat. It reads:

"It would be wrong to conclude from Uber that founder involvement in the companies they create is a mistake. While founders should be held accountable to strong, independent boards and need the support of experienced leadership teams, founder DNA is a precious asset and cannot be under-estimated. It is a founder's passion, strategic clairvoyance, ability to inspire and motivate employees and relentless pursuit of the mission that enables start-ups to achieve seismic changes against the odds. Founders may not always play the role of CEO but several great companies -- most notably Apple and Twitter -- that severed all ties to their founders eventually came to regret it."

Featured

Facebook's new mission: building communities

Noah Berger / AP

During the social network's first convention for community leaders in Chicago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new mission statement for his company: "Give people the power to build community to help bring the world closer together."

For years, Facebook's stated goal had been about "making the world more open and connected," though Zuckerberg hinted at a new focus on community building in February, when he released an updated founder letter.

What it means: Of course, Zuckerberg's newfound reckoning isn't groundbreaking. Connecting family and friends is inherently related to community building, and the company's had tools and features for groups for years. But the company's new community-focused convention and its new mission statement add to Zuckerberg's recent (and slow) coming to terms with Facebook's role in the world. The last U.S. presidential election in particular seemed to have had an impact on him, highlighting the growing division between people.

New tools: To help leaders who manage Facebook community pages, Facebook announced that they'll get more tools for filtering and managing membership requests. They'll also get more data about requests and when members are most active, schedule posts, link to other groups, and the ability to remove bad actors.

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Primack's last word on the Kalanick exit (for now)

AP Photo/Eric Gay, file

The Uber saga continued yesterday, with the resignation of Benchmark partner Bill Gurley from the company's board of directors. He'll be replaced by Matt Cohler who, alongside fellow Benchmarker Peter Fenton, actually negotiated Travis Kalanick's resignation on Tuesday night — namely because Gurley and Kalanick are no longer on speaking terms. In fact, a source says that Kalanick requested Gurley step down so that the board can be more functional going forward (remember, Travis remains a director). Here are other key points:

  • Money: Kalanick obviously isn't hurting, with sources saying that he's received multi-million dollar performance bonuses in each of the past few years. But remember that he's never sold a single share of Uber stock, so he still has a strong financial incentive to help maintain value (versus trying to burn down the house). Moreover, almost everyone I've spoken with believes that his continued board presence is vital to the company's future success.
  • Partners: Multiple sources say that the relationship between Kalanick and Arianna Huffington became problematically close, with Kalanick not really speaking to any other directors between the time he took a leave of absence and Tuesday's investor revolt. In short, Kalanick isolated himself with Huffington as buffer — and other directors were ticked off by things like this NY Times puff piece on Huffington (which they viewed as being primarily about personal brand promotion).
  • Speaking of which: There was a ridiculous NY Post story yesterday suggesting that Huffington was leading the CEO search, via her advocacy for Sheryl Sandberg. To be sure, most everyone at Uber would kill for Sandberg to take the role, but Huffington isn't in any particular charge of recruiting (a role really led by Gurley, who was expected to remain involved). Just to prove the point, that same story later suggests Huffington nemesis Tim Armstrong as a candidate. No way she's recruiting him (nor do I think he's a serious candidate, given the upcoming Yahoo integration that he spearheaded at AOL).
  • Timeline: It is important to note that Kalanick's behavior and choices in the time between taking leave and Tuesday were determinative for many of the revolting investors, although specifics remain hard to come by. But know this: Had Kalanick just taken a couple of weeks at the beach with his phone turned off, he's probably still CEO.
  • Other moves: TPG's David Trujillo will take that firm's board seat, following the resignation of David Bonderman over sexist statements made at last week's all-hands. Worth noting that TPG didn't sign the investor letter on Tuesday, although it was considered to be generally supportive of the effort (seems the letter's specific language was at issue).
  • CEO candidates? Here are some options.
  • Counterpoint: Conventional wisdom is that Kalanick's resignation is a win for Silicon Valley women, but not everyone agrees. Check out this Facebook post from Uber product manager Margaret-Ann Seger: "I'm angry, sad, flustered, confused, but mostly just heartbroken."
  • Reconsidering: Prior to Kalanick's resignation, I wrote a piece questioning whether Uber's board should have hired Eric Holder in the first place. Not whether it needed to investigate sexual harassment claims or that it needed cultural changes -- but rather if the Holder investigation structure was the best way to proceed. Read it here.